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Report Asks Multi-Million-Dollar Question: Why Methane Leaks on Federal Lands?

Venting and flaring of associated natural gas in oil production on federal and tribal lands throughout the West is a multi-million-dollar annual problem and the oil/gas industry is allegedly to blame, according to a new report from ICF International done for the Environmental Defense Fund (EDF).

Part of EDF's ongoing national campaign urging government and industry to rein in methane leaks in the oil/gas production cycle, the ICF report released Tuesday characterized the leakage and flaring as wasting more than $360 million of unused gas into the atmosphere annually.

EDF noted that the report’s release comes at a time when the federal Bureau of Land Management (BLM) is preparing to release new rules for oil/gas operators regarding venting, flaring and other waste on federal and tribal lands. Natural gas production is concentrated on these federal lands in several western states, the report said.

ICF concluded that oil/gas operations on federal and tribal lands emitted more than 1 million tons of methane in 2013, representing 12% of the U.S. methane emissions that year. Gas production on the federal lands represented 14% of U.S. total production, but 21% of the emissions from gas production, the report contends.

"The ICF analysis found that western states tended to have higher emissions from oil/gas activity on federal/tribal lands due to the fact that natural gas production on [these lands] is largely concentrated in western states, such as New Mexico and Wyoming," an EDF spokesperson said. New Mexico and Wyoming lead the nation in methane emissions on federal lands, and Utah posted the highest on tribal lands, the report concluded.

BLM leases and regulates 700 million acres of federal and tribal lands, an area roughly four times the size of Texas, according to EDF. Nationally, these lands produce 14% of the nation's natural gas and 8% of the U.S. crude production.

EDF Director of Regulatory Policy Tomas Carbonell cited the statistics as a reason why BLM needs to propose "strong standards to minimize waste and reduce emissions." Besides the environmental drivers, Carbonell cited the need to spare American taxpayers the cost of all that wasted energy.

"The oil and gas industry is wasting a valuable public resources and making life difficult for their neighbors in the process by damaging both local air quality and climate," said Mark Brownstein, EDF vice president for climate and energy. "Solutions are simple, straightforward and cost effective, but [they] are not going to happen without new [BLM] rules."

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