Rally To Support Obama Methane Rule Draws Small Crowd In Setback For Anti-Drilling Activists
A rally in Colorado to support the Obama administration’s last-minute restrictions on energy development on federal lands drew only a handful of protestors in a setback for anti-oil and gas groups.
The April 18 event in Grand Junction, Colo. was supposed to show support for the “venting and flaring” rule, issued by the U.S. Bureau of Land Management (BLM) in the final months of the Obama administration. But only a dozen protestors showed up, according to the Grand Junction Daily Sentinel, and a Facebook post by the organizers put the headcount even lower at seven.
The rally was intended to put pressure on U.S. Sen. Cory Gardner (R-Colo.) ahead of a key vote on the venting and flaring rule. A disapproval motion under the Congressional Review Act (CRA), which would effectively repeal the rule, passed the U.S. House earlier this year and is now before the Senate.
“[W]e’re out here calling on Senator Cory Gardner to keep this common-sense rule in place,” said Emily Hornback, an activist with the Western Colorado Congress (WCC), according to the Sentinel. WCC has worked with national activist groups like Food & Water Watch to lobby for a national ban on hydraulic fracturing, an essential technology for developing oil and natural gas. The group also worked closely with “ban fracking” activist and filmmaker Josh Fox, according to the WCC.
The BLM rule seeks to restrict emissions of methane, the primary constituent of natural gas, both during the drilling process and the production phase for oil and gas development on federal lands. Supporters of the rule claim it will prevent natural gas from being wasted and result in more royalty revenue. But critics of the rule say just the opposite will occur: The extra red tape will block many wells from being drilled and force others to prematurely shut down due to higher costs, they argue.
In Colorado, a coalition of tribal, business and local officials oppose the venting and flaring rule, including the Southern Ute Indian Tribe, Grand Junction Chamber of Commerce, Colorado Association of Commerce and Industry, and the Colorado Business Roundtable. Another critic of the BLM methane rule is Club 20, which is itself a coalition of local governments, tribes, businesses and citizens from Colorado’s Western Slope.
Existing regulations “already protect air quality” and the BLM’s methane rule should be abolished, Clement Frost, chairman of the Southern Ute Indian Tribe, told Western Wire in February. “The Tribe relies on revenues from Reservation energy development to fund important government services,” he said. “BLM’s rule is unnecessary and would further negatively impact the Tribe’s energy development revenue.”
The Grand Junction Chamber supports the repeal of the venting and flaring rule because it will add costs and “mountains of paperwork” to energy development on federal lands without providing an environmental benefit. “There’s an additional burden being placed on the energy industry that doesn’t really do anything in terms of regulating air quality,” Diane Schwenke, president and CEO of the Grand Junction Chamber, told Western Wire after the CRA disapproval motion passed the U.S. House. “There are already stringent state and federal regulations in place, especially here in Colorado.”
Elsewhere in the West, there is widespread opposition to the BLM methane rule. Backers of the CRA disapproval motion include New Mexico Gov. Susana Martinez (R), Utah Gov. Gary Herbert (R), North Dakota Gov. Doug Burgum (R) and the Greater North Dakota Chamber. In a related move, four states – North Dakota, Wyoming, Montana and Texas – are now in federal court trying to strike down the rule.
Even business groups in the Midwest and Appalachia, who are concerned about the rule’s impact on the national economy, have endorsed the repeal of the BLM regulation. Chambers of commerce in Missouri, Illinois, Wisconsin, Indiana, Ohio, West Virginia, Kentucky and Pennsylvania all supported the U.S. House vote earlier this year on the CRA disapproval motion.
Officials seeking the repeal of the venting and flaring rule argue that the BLM can curb methane emissions more effectively by approving more pipelines to transport natural gas away from well sites to the markets where it can be sold. But new pipeline projects have been opposed by the Sierra Club, the Center for Biological Diversity and other “keep it in the ground” activist groups – the same groups that have called the venting and flaring rule “a positive step” towards ending fossil-fuel production on public lands completely.
Proponents of repealing venting and flaring rule also say the Obama administration ignored existing state and federal regulations and industry practices that are already doing the job, cutting methane emissions 21 percent below 1990 levels despite large increases in oil and natural gas production.
Faced with a broad support across the West for repealing the BLM methane regulation, anti-oil and gas activists have put together a much smaller coalition in a last-ditch effort to save the Obama rule. Dubbed the Western Leaders Network (WLN), the group is led by Mark Pearson, board secretary of the San Juan Citizens Alliance (SJCA), and Gwen Lachelt, a former Earthworks activist who now serves as a commissioner in La Plata County, Colo.
Even so, defenders of the Obama BLM claim to support the methane rule because they believe it will result in more energy production and tax revenue. At the WCC’s protest this week, for example, activists said the rule would be a “financial boon” to taxpayers, according to the Sentinel.
But pro-industry advocates in Colorado have been quick to challenge the activists’ motives. “The players behind this new group oppose oil and natural gas development in any way they can,” Christi Zeller, executive director of the pro-industry La Plata Energy Council, told Western Wire in March following the the launch of WLN.
“They don’t support the BLM venting and flaring rule because it will put our energy resources to good use,” Zeller said. “They support the rule because it will result in less energy production. The talking points don’t match the track record.”