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Wyoming Natural Gas Flaring Issue Reignited with Enviro Study

While federal agencies are rolling back Obama-era rules to curb methane emissions, an environmental group’s report is seeking to make Wyoming a poster child for updating restrictions on wellhead natural gas flaring.

The Wyoming Outdoor Council (WOC) called for action by state regulators to reverse what is estimated to be an annual loss of $51-96 million in flared gas, or a loss of annual revenue of $8.8-16.1 million. The WOC outlined the issue in the Wyoming Natural Gas Waste Report.

To reduce flared gas, the WOC recommended that the Wyoming Department of Environmental Quality's (DEQ) air quality division apply leak detection and repair (LDAR) requirements statewide -- not just in the gassy Jonah and Pinedale Anticline fields. Under the LDAR required in Jonah and Pinedale, operators regularly inspect wells and associated equipment using special tools to detect leaks.

The group also is advocating for "a full menu of waste-reducing methods and protocols for all existing wells statewide."

Five counties are being shortchanged on revenues because of flaring, according to the WOC. Converse, Goshen, Campbell, Laramie and Sweetwater counties were estimated to have per-county lost revenues ranging from $560,000 to $2.8 million a year.

Wyoming oil and gas supervisor Mark Watson said there are no plans to update the flaring rules. Gas flaring, he said, is “a small part” of total air emissions. He also pointed out that the WOC study recommended rule changes be made by the Wyoming DEQ, not the Oil and Gas Conservation Commission.

The industry-led Petroleum Association of Wyoming (PAW) said the anti-flaring steps were unnecessary.

"The rules are more than adequate to address the state's needs regarding flaring," said PAW Vice President John Robitaille, who challenged the accuracy of the report’s findings.

Robitaille said the report failed to account for the composition of the gas being reported as flared, such as volumes of nitrogen, and instead reported all of it as methane of a saleable quality and quantity.

"That is not usually the case," he said, noting that “companies do not willingly waste a product they are trying to sell; that's just not good business."

Over the past two years, Wyoming has revised its flaring rules and joined other states in suing the federal government over the now suspended U.S. Bureau of Land Management (BLM) flaring regulations. The U.S. District Court for the District of Wyoming denied the request by several oil and gas producing states for a preliminary injunction against the Obama-era venting/flaring rule.

Two years ago, the Wyoming Oil and Gas Conservation Commission revised the flaring rules, gaining a mixed reaction at the time from environmental groups. The WOC, Environmental Defense Fund and other environmental organizations had wanted a blanket ban on venting gas. Oil and gas producers were supportive of the changes when they emerged in late 2016.

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