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Native Sun News Today
Health & Environment Editor

Lisa DeVille

BISMARCK, N.D. –– Ft. Berthold Protectors of Water & Earth Rights (POWER) sued the U.S. Bureau of Land Management on July 10 over the agency’s decision to ignore parts of a rule designed to reduce the waste of natural gas resources belonging to tribal government and mineral rights owners on allotment land.

The Methane Waste Prevention Rule went into effect in January 2017. However, in June, at the urging of industry groups, Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke stayed provisions of the rule, preventing its full implementation for at least six months.

Ft. Berthold POWER is challenging the stay as part of a coalition of community and environmental groups represented in court by Earthjustice.

“This is the third time that the industry has influenced the new administration to force the repeal of this much-needed regulation that protects our resources and air quality,” said Mandan Hidatsa & Arikara Nation member Lisa DeVille, the president of Ft. Berthold POWER, a local affiliate of the grassroots statewide Dakota Resource Council.

“The Trump Administration is willfully ignoring the law to enhance profits for oil companies after the rule has survived legal challenges and the threat of repeal in Congress,” DeVille said.

Opponents of the rule attempted to prevent it from being implemented by seeking a preliminary injunction in Wyoming U.S. District Court and by lobbying lawmakers for repeal, using the Congressional Review Act. The court denied the request for preliminary injunction and the Senate rejected a motion to vote on a repeal.

The Western Energy Alliance, other industry groups, and the states of North Dakota, Wyoming, and Montana opposed the rule, saying that the BLM is not legally qualified to apply it. They argue it would cost oil companies money to install infrastructure for capturing the gas, which is released at wellheads in fracking operations.

Backers of the rule, say that it would reduce waste, cut pollution, and ensure that states and tribes receive compensation from natural gas royalties.

DeVille is concerned about health impacts. “Living in Mandaree, I can see at least 50 flares surrounding me,” she said. “What is it I am breathing in?”

Earthjustice filed the new complaint in the North District of California U.S. District Court in San Francisco, because the states of California and New Mexico already have a legal challenge to the stay filed there.

The latest lawsuit may be combined with the earlier one, according to court documents.

The Waste Prevention Rule sets standards to limit the pervasive problem of waste of natural gas by oil and gas companies operating on federal or tribal oil and gas leases.

“These companies waste publicly-owned gas by deliberately venting it into the atmosphere, flaring it (burning it without capturing the energy), or otherwise allowing it to leak into the air,” the lawsuit says.

From 2009 to 2015, federal and tribal lessees vented or flared enough gas to serve about 6.2 million households for a year, according to BLM estimates.

“By controlling this waste and requiring more gas to be brought to market, the rule increases revenues for states and local governments that receive royalties paid on oil and gas production. The rule also reduces air pollution, including greenhouse gas emissions and other smog-forming and hazardous pollutants,” the lawsuit notes.

Natural gas that is vented or leaked into the air also has environmental impacts because it is made up of methane, volatile organic compounds, and hazardous air pollutants, like benzene. Methane is a greenhouse gas 86 times more powerful than carbon dioxide over a 20-year period. That makes it an accelerant of climate change.

These substances contribute to the formation of ground level ozone, or smog, which at high concentrations causes serious negative public health effects, such as increased numbers of asthma and heart attacks.

Benzene and other toxic or carcinogenic compounds found in natural gas can cause long term negative health impacts for the people that breathe them in.

The other plaintiffs in the case are the Sierra Club, Center For Biological Diversity, Environmental Defense Fund, National Wildlife Federation, Natural Resources Defense Council, The Wilderness Society, Citizens For A Healthy Community, Diné Citizens Against Ruining Our Environment, Earthworks, Environmental Law And Policy Center, Montana Environmental Information Center, San Juan Citizens Alliance, Western Organization Of Resource Councils, Wilderness Workshop, Wildearth Guardians, and Wyoming Outdoor Council.

The Mineral Leasing Act of 1920 requires the BLM to ensure that lessees ‘‘use all reasonable precautions to prevent waste of oil or gas developed in the land . . ..’’

The BLM manages more than 245 million acres of land and 700 million acres of subsurface, making up nearly a third of the U.S. mineral estate. Domestic production from over 100,000 federal onshore oil and gas wells accounts for 11 percent of the U.S. natural gas supply and 5 percent of the oil.

In Fiscal Year 2014, the production value of onshore federal and Indian oil and gas leases exceeded $27.2 billion and generated approximately $3.1 billion in royalties.

Over the past decade, the United States has experienced a dramatic increase in oil and natural gas production due to technologies such as hydraulic fracturing and horizontal drilling.

However, BLM rule makers of the previous Administration said in the Federal Register, “The American public has not benefited from the full potential of this increased production, due to the flaring, venting, and leakage of significant quantities of gas during the production process.”

It said that “flaring, venting, and leaks waste a valuable resource that could be put to productive use, and deprive American taxpayers, tribes, and states of royalty revenues. In addition, the wasted gas may harm local communities and surrounding areas through visual and noise impacts from flaring.”

(Contact Talli Nauman