More than 60 business owners from across the Western Slope have submitted a letter to senators Michael Bennet and Cory Gardner urging support for keeping the Bureau of Land Management's Methane and Waste Prevention Rule in place.
Congressional Republicans are calling for a roll-back of the rule under the Congressional Review Act (CRA). On Feb. 3, the House voted, 221-191, to pass a resolution of disapproval calling for an undoing of the rule. Colorado representatives voted along party lines.
"We recognize that the BLM's oil and gas program is an important economic contributor to our national economy," states the letter. "But without this rule in place, along with that production comes a tremendous amount of waste. Without the BLM's rule, more than $330 million worth of natural gas is wasted each year from development on public lands, which could cost taxpayers an estimated $800 million in lost revenue over the next decade. Between 2009 and 2015, federal and Indian onshore wells vented or flare enough gas to serve more than six million households for a year."
The rule was adopted by the BLM in 2016 under the Obama Administration as a way to curb venting, leaking and flaring of methane. Among its benefits, argue proponents of the rule, it helps reduce emission of benzene and other volatile organic compounds that come out of the ground along with methane that can negatively affect air quality, the environment and human health. Opponents of the rule say compliance is cost prohibitive, would impede energy production and decrease revenues and production of natural gas, and that the industry already invests in technology to reduce methane emissions.
If the resolution is passed, under the CRA, the rule would no longer be in effect, and the BLM would be prohibited from ever issuing a similar rule unless specifically authorized by Congress.
Delta County businesses supporting the letter include Nicholoff, Summit Construction, Mesa Winds Farm & Winery, Thistle Whistle Farm, Big B's Fabulous Juices & Hard Ciders and Delicious Orchards, Malinda Rogers Art and Design, and Barnhart Woodworks. Avalanche Cheese Company in Basalt, which operates a dairy on Bone Mesa, is also a supporter of the rule.
Amy DeLuca and Frederick Zimmer own Cirque Cyclery in downtown Paonia. Their company business model supports local agriculture, value-added food products, recreation, "and all that makes the North Fork area so special," said DeLuca. If people knew large amounts of methane were escaping into the area, "It would deter people from coming here, and that would destroy our business."
Proponents also argue that the methane capture industry creates needed jobs. John Welfelt, owner of Welfelt Fabrication in Delta, calls the rule a "win-win for everybody." The 40-year-old company supplies parts for the Elk Creek power plant near Somerset, which converts captured methane from the Elk Creek Mine into electricity. "That plant provides jobs," said Welfelt.
In a recent letter to the editor sent to the Grand Junction Sentinel, Welfelt wrote that "Small businesses have sprung up to meet the need to capture formerly wasted methane." He also said those employed in the methane mitigation industry "earn a good wage, $30 an hour on average or more."
The letter to the senators also states that the rule makes sense from a business perspective. "Waste directly affects our bottom lines and results in decreased revenues. Simply put, the BLM's methane rule makes good business sense."
The resolution now goes to the Senate for consideration and could come to a vote as early as this week.
On Tuesday, Sept. 11, the Delta County Board of Commissioners called a special meeting to consider the board's response to the Bureau of Land Management's preliminary Environmental Assessment (EA) concerning the lease parcels proposed for the December BLM sale.
Several people from the North Fork were present to provide input.