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BLM, States, Industry Fighting Natural Gas Venting/Flaring Lawsuits

The Bureau of Land Management (BLM) is pushing back against efforts in federal district court to derail the Trump administration's decision to postpone the compliance dates for rules governing associated natural gas flaring and venting on public and tribal lands, calling the rules suspension "a commonsense, time-limited solution to a practical problem."

North Dakota, Texas and three energy industry groups joined the BLM in opposing a pair of lawsuits in U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California over the administration's order to delay the compliance dates for BLM's Waste Prevention, Production Subject to Royalties, and Resource Conservation Rule -- aka the venting and flaring rule -- until January 2019. The rule was promulgated in 2016, during the Obama administration.

The lawsuits were filed last month by the states of California and New Mexico, and a coalition of environmental groups, led by the Sierra Club. The BLM, North Dakota and Texas, along with the American Petroleum Institute (API), the Independent Petroleum Association of America and the Western Energy Alliance, each filed separate briefs on Tuesday. API had filed a motion to intervene on Jan. 5.

"Plaintiffs would have this court believe that the suspension rule fundamentally revises the 2016 rule," the BLM said. "This is false. The suspension rule merely postpones the most expensive compliance requirements of the 2016 rule for one year, while BLM considers whether to substantively revise the 2016 rule through a separate rulemaking process."

The BLM said oil and gas operators "should not be required to make expensive equipment investments to meet requirements that may be rescinded or significantly revised in the near future, and it is not a good use of scarce agency resources to implement a rule that is likely to change."

In a joint filing, North Dakota Attorney General (AG) Wayne Stenehjem and Texas AG Ken Paxton said the 2016 rule "rides roughshod over North Dakota and Texas's sovereign interests in administering their own distinct regulatory programs governing oil and gas production and air quality within their borders.

"If reinstated in full as plaintiffs request, that rule will further frustrate and impede North Dakota and Texas's several sovereign interests in administering their distinct oil and gas programs, their air quality programs, and the orderly development of the states' natural resources."

Last October, the San Francisco court sided with AGs for California and New Mexico, as well as another coalition of environmental groups. The court ruled that the Trump administration violated the Administrative Procedure Act four months earlier when BLM first proposed delaying the compliance dates.

The lawsuits, each filed on Dec. 19 with Judge William Orrick presiding, are State of California et al v. Ryan Zinke et al, No. 3:17-cv-7186; and Sierra Club et al v. Ryan Zinke et al, No. 3:17-cv-7187.

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