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Wyoming Regulators Revise Flaring Rules

Wyoming's Oil and Gas Conservation Commission (OGCC) on Tuesday approved revisions to the state's wellhead natural gas flaring rules, gaining some praise and caution from environmental groups.

Environmental groups such as the Wyoming Outdoor Council and Environmental Defense Fund (EDF) wanted a blanket ban on venting of gas, but they didn't get it in the latest OGCC action. The state unveiled a draft flaring rule in November, which was greeted positively by industry (see Daily GPINov. 16, 2015).

“We had hoped the Commission would raise the bar at least to the level that North Dakota has and outright prohibit the antiquated and dirty practice of venting with a narrower exception carved out for only those wells that technically have no other choice,” said Amber Wilson, an advocate for the Outdoor Council. “We look forward to the commission readdressing this rule in the relatively near future as better data become available as the result of the commission’s new reporting requirements.”

EDF officials complained that the revised state rules allow too much (up to 60 Mcf/d) flaring and venting.

“These thresholds allow too much venting and flaring to happen under the radar,” said Jon Goldstein, EDF senior energy policy manager. “Each well may be flaring a small amount, but in aggregate this can mean a lot of waste.”

In 2015, the amount of unpermitted flaring and venting was 56% of the state total, which increased from 40% in 2014.

The EDF official said Wyoming’s rule falls "well short" of what is being implemented elsewhere and "threatens the state’s status as a leader in oil/gas regulation.”

Venting of natural gas is flatly prohibited in some states, such as North Dakota, the environmental advocates said. Furthermore, they reiterate that flared and vented natural gas represent the waste of a valuable natural resource, citing a recent report from ICF International that calculated that venting, flaring and equipment leaks in Wyoming wasted more than $42 million worth of gas in 2013 on federal and tribal lands alone.

According to a report from Western Values Project, if captured and sent to market, this natural gas would have brought an additional $88 million in federal royalty payments to Wyoming since 2009, they said.

Wilson acknowledged that the revised rule carries "some improvements," citing better data reporting and a requirement that operators submit a gas capture plan with their application for a permit to flare. “But more could have been done at this stage to reduce waste and protect Wyoming’s air quality.”

The new rule places few new restrictions on venting or flaring, which is the intentional release of natural gas to the atmosphere. Venting of gas directly to the atmosphere poses serious environmental risks, and both venting and flaring are wasteful practices that needlessly deplete an important domestic energy resource, Wilson stressed. The new rule does not include a prohibition on venting, and it lacks any requirement that operators demonstrate an economic justification for venting or flaring.

The final rule also still includes the permitting threshold for flaring 60 Mcf/d.

Last month the U.S. Bureau of Land Management released proposed rules that, after a phase-in period, would prohibit flaring of more than 60 Mcf/d and largely eliminate venting from oil and gas wells on federal and tribal lands (see Daily GPIJan. 22).

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