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Texas Asks Court to Join BLM Lawsuit Over Venting/Flaring Rule

Texas has asked a federal district court for permission to join three states and two industry groups in a lawsuit against the Department of Interior (DOI) over a final rule to reduce venting and flaring from oil and gas operations on public and tribal lands.

In a motion filed Tuesday in U.S. District Court for the District of Wyoming, Texas Attorney General (AG) Ken Paxton asked that Texas be allowed to join a lawsuit filed by Montana, North Dakota and Wyoming over the Methane Waste Prevention Rule, which was promulgated by the DOI and its Bureau of Land Management (BLM).

"This is yet another case of gross federal overreach in which the BLM exceeded its legal authority, bypassing Congress to implement an unlawful rule on methane gas," Paxton said. "The regulation has negligible environmental benefit and adds additional cost to both Texas and the oil and gas industry by creating more red tape."

The Texas AG's website derided the rule for creating "redundant, expensive and unlawful regulation of methane gas venting and flaring on federal land," and added that Texas joined the lawsuit in order to challenge "an eleventh-hour regulation pushed out by the Obama administration late last year."

Two industry groups, the Western Energy Alliance (WEA) and the Independent Petroleum Association of America (IPAA), were the first to file a lawsuit against the rule last November. Montana and Wyoming filed a separate lawsuit three days later, and North Dakota subsequently joined as a petitioner. The two lawsuits were combined at the end of November.

Last December, California and New Mexico asked permission to intervene on the side of the BLM and a host of environmental groups defending the rule.

Under the final rule, to be implemented in stages, oil and gas producers would be required to use currently available technologies and processes to cut flaring in half at oil wells on public and tribal lands. Operators would also be required to periodically inspect their facilities for leaks and replace outdated equipment that vents large quantities of gas into the air. Other parts of the rule require operators to limit venting from storage tanks and to use best practices to limit gas losses when removing liquids from wells.

The case is State of Wyoming et al v. United States Department of the Interior et al, No. 2:16-cv-00285-SWS. District Court Judge Scott Skavdahl is the presiding judge.

Last June, Skavdahl ruled that the BLM does not have the authority to enforce a separate rule governing hydraulic fracturing (fracking) on public and tribal lands. The BLM subsequently appealedto the Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals in Denver.

Oral arguments in the fracking case, in which the WEA and IPAA are also petitioners, were scheduled to begin on Wednesday, but last week attorneys for the BLM asked the court to vacate them and grant an abeyance because the agency intends to rescind the rule.

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