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The President’s Methane Reduction Strategy – Here’s What Energy Companies Need to Know

President Obama recently released a Strategy to Reduce Methane Emissions (Strategy) that sets forth a multi-pronged plan for reducing methane emissions both domestically and globally.  Domestically, the plan is to focus on four sources of methane—the oil and gas sector, coal mines, agriculture and landfills—and to pursue a mix of regulatory actions with respect to those sources.  Energy companies now have the opportunity to help influence exactly what those actions will be.

For the oil and gas sector, the Strategy indicates that the federal government will focus primarily on encouraging voluntary efforts to reduce methane emissions—such as bolstering the existing Natural Gas STAR Program and promoting new technologies.  But the Strategy also identifies two areas of potential mandatory requirements.  First, later this year, the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) will issue a draft rule on minimizing venting and flaring on public lands.  Regulated parties will have the opportunity to submit comments after the proposed rule is released.  Second, the Strategy confirms that the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) will decide this fall whether to propose any mandatory methane control requirements on oil and gas production companies.  Consistent with that announcement, on April 15, 2014, EPA released five technical whitepapers discussing methane emissions from the oil and gas production process.  The agency is soliciting comments on those whitepapers—they are due by June 16, 2014.

For coal mines, the Strategy indicates that BLM will soon be seeking public input on developing a program to capture and sell methane from coal mines on public lands.  The Strategy further indicates that EPA will continue promoting voluntary methane capture efforts.

For landfills, the Strategy calls for public input on whether EPA should update its regulations for existing solid waste landfills, indicates that EPA will be proposing new regulations for future landfills, and indicates that EPA will continue to support the development of voluntary landfill gas-to-energy projects.

For agriculture, the Strategy does not suggest any new regulatory requirements.  Instead, it indicates that EPA and the Department of Energy will work to promote voluntary methane control efforts and that those agencies will place special emphasis on promoting biogas—starting with the release of a “Biogas Roadmap” in June 2014.

In addition to these sector-specific approaches, the Strategy emphasizes the need for improved methane measurement and modeling techniques, both domestically and globally.  All of the topics covered by the Strategy are ones about which regulated parties may want to submit comments—to EPA, BLM and/or the Office of Management and Budget.




BLM Finalizes Segregation Rule for Wind and Solar Energy Projects

by Thomas L. Hefty

As part of its policy to encourage private development of renewable energy projects on public lands, the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) issued its final rule for “segregating” (temporarily withdrawing) BLM public lands from appropriation. Under the final rule, when the BLM receives an application for right of way (ROW) for a solar or wind energy generation project (or when the BLM initiates a competitive process for solar or wind energy development), the BLM has the authority to segregate those lands for up to two years to ensure that they remain available for solar or wind projects.  The final rule should provide greater certainty to developers applying for ROW to develop solar or wind projects.

Most of the public lands with pending wind energy ROW applications are currently managed for multiple resource use and are open to mineral entry under the Mining Law of 1872 (Mining Law). Such mining claims are not subject to BLM approval and could interfere with the BLM’s processing of solar or wind ROW application. Prior to this final rule, the BLM lacked authority to maintain the status quo on lands during the period between when it  publicly announced the receipt of a solar or wind energy generation ROW application, or when it identified an area for such applications, and its final decision. As the BLM pointed out, certain Mining Law claims were likely filed not for actual mining, but “to provide a means for a mining claimant to compel payment from the ROW applicant in exchange for relinquishing a speculative mining claim.” The final rule is intended to prevent such claims. Because segregation is intended only to preserve the status quo until the BLM acts on a ROW application, the segregation order will have no effect on valid existing Mining Law claims or Mining Law claims made after the segregation period. 

Segregation is not automatically granted with every solar or wind energy ROW application. BLM’s decision will be made on a case-by-case basis when it finds that segregation is necessary for the orderly administration of public lands.  Based on the BLM’s Programmatic Environmental Impact Statements for solar energy (2012) and wind energy (2005) developments in the western states and the BLM’s solar and wind pre-application screening protocol, the BLM should possess sufficient facts to make a segregation determination shortly after receipt of the ROW application. 

Segregation is effective upon publication of notice by the BLM in the Federal Register identifying the affected public land. Because it is intended to prevent Mining Law and other claims from interfering with pending BLM’s decision on the ROW application, the segregation notice occurs without prior public notice or comment period. 

Upon segregation, the affected public land will no longer be subject to appropriation under the public land laws, including location and entry under the Mining Law, however, the segregated land remains subject, to the Mineral Leasing Act of 1920 and Materials Act of 1947. segregation remains in effect for a maximum of two years, but a BLM State Director has the [...]

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