The on-again, off-again Bureau of Land Management's 2016 “ Methane and Waste Prevention Rule” may be back in effect as early as October 13, 2020. The final rule was published in November 2016, with some provisions taking effect in January 2017. Due to interventions, administrative and judicial, very few provisions of the rule were implemented.
Often compared to EPA's NSPS OOOOa in its breadth of requirements, the Rule would have implemented venting and flaring restrictions, gas capture requirements, Leak Detection and Repair, and emission reductions from pneumatic devices and storage tanks. Unlike the NSPS, the Waste Rule would apply to existing and new production facilities on Federal and Indian Land.
Adding to the confusion caused by the interventions, the Rule was modified by the BLM in 2018. These modifications were nullified in July 2020, and unless stayed or vacated again before the October 2020 date, the full version of the original 2016 Waste Rule will be in effect.
Though the timing for implementing the requirements is yet to be defined, operators of oil and gas well production located on a Federal or Indian lease can expect the following:
- A “waste minimization plan” will be required for any application for permit to drill
- Venting and flaring, except in cases of “unavoidable loss”, will not be allowed
- Gas capture during drilling and “green” completions
- Gas capture during production, measured as a percentage of gas produced, beginning at 85% and increasing to 98% capture within eight years
- Low-bleed pneumatic controllers and zero-emission or 100% capture for pneumatic pumps
- Storage vessel requirements to reduce and control emissions, that look very much like NSPS OOOOa
- Leak Detection and Repair for all production equipment at a site, semi-annually for well production and quarterly for compressor stations
- Monitoring, recordkeeping, and reporting for much of the above
Though the various sections may have “off ramps,” the burden will be on the operator to qualify for exemption from a given section. For example, if the requirement “would impose such costs as to cause the operator to cease production and abandon significant recoverable oil,” the BLM may approve a percentage of gas capture during production lower than required by the rule.
A company may wonder if an oil well in decline, with 3-4 MMscfd of associated gas, be allowed to vent such a small quantity, or would the venting prohibitions and capture requirements apply by default? It appears to be the latter, unless BLM approves a case-by-case “demonstration” prepared by the operator proving that the default capture would cause the operator to cease production.
While the stop-start history of this Rule may yet again result in a stay of all or parts of the rule before October 13, “hoping for the best, planning for the worst” is prudent. That starts with becoming reacquainted with the 2016 Rule. For a quick summary of the July 2020 ruling that removed the 2018 modifications, we recommend, “The BLM 2016 Methane and Waste Prevention Rule Resurfaces.”