WASHINGTON, May 6, 2015 -- Three Democratic lawmakers are asking the Interior Department to place limits on the unnecessary releases of natural gas from oil and gas wells in light of a new Government Accountability Office report that found that officials have not improved natural gas capture standards despite two previous reports urging reforms.

In a letter, Sen. Ron Wyden of Oregon and Reps. Peter DeFazio of Oregon and Raul Grijalva of Arizona asked Interior Secretary Sally Jewell to implement GAO recommendations that would protect the environment while securing full market value of oil and gas production on public lands for taxpayers. Some of the recommendations were made as long as a decade ago.

A 2010 GAO report found that 40 percent of the natural gas vented into the atmosphere (“vented”) or burned at the wellhead (“flared”) during oil and gas production could be economically captured and sold at market value. It also found that capturing natural gas in oil and gas production on federal lands, instead of venting or flaring it off, would reduce carbon emissions equivalent to taking 3 million cars off U.S. roads and save American taxpayers $23 million a year.

 “At our request, the U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO) recently completed a review of the Department’s efforts to update its regulations for oil and gas leases, and found that despite significant progress, additional work remains to protect the environment and ensure fair returns for taxpayers,” the lawmakers wrote in the letter. “We are particularly concerned with the lack of regulations to limit venting and flaring natural gas from Federal leases, which GAO first identified as a problem over 10 years ago.”

The latest GAO report highlights the need for Congress to provide more resources for the Bureau of Land Management’s (BLM) inspection and enforcement program. Oil production on federal lands has increased 45 percent since 2008, and the agency isn’t getting the funding needed to keep up with the additional activity, GAO said.

In 2004, the GAO reported problems with the Interior Department’s reporting of natural gas extraction from wells, noting that the federal government had been underreporting the amount of natural gas that was being flared or vented. The agency found in 2010 that actual releases of natural gas in the U.S. were up to 30 times the amount reported for onshore wells and about six times more than what was reported for offshore wells.

Methane is about 25 times more potent than carbon dioxide as a greenhouse gas.

Wyden, DeFazio and Grijalva requested the report last year. Grijalva is the top Democrat on the House Natural Resources Committee, Wyden is a senior member of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, and DeFazio is the former top Democrat on the House Natural Resources Committee.


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