Utah gas well flare video sparks methane rule debate

Published: Apr. 27, 2017 at 8:17 PM MDT
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A local environmental group said a nearby natural gas well flared for a full three and a half minutes.

Members of the group said that not only is flaring bad for the environment, but they believe they have the video to prove it.

It's prompted a heated discussion, especially as state congressional republicans look to roll back the BLM Methane Rule.

The BLM Methane Rule is meant to regulate emissions from oil and gas facilities, specifically the venting and flaring of methane. The federal rule is modeled after Colorado's rule which was passed three years ago. It requires well operators to capture methane rather than letting it escape.

The videos taken by thermal cameras, seen above, hope to show state Senators why it's important to keep the BLM Methane Rule. It was passed during the Obama Administration and was set to take effect in 2018.

“What currently is happening in those states that don't have regulation, is these wells sites are leaking and venting methane,” said Kristin Winn, Citizens for Clean air. “Methane is a huge contributor to global warming.”

Kristin Winn said she visited a well site in eastern Utah's Uintah Basin, where thermal cameras were capturing the video of what is being called an excessive flare.

"We happened to be there when, all of a sudden, the thing let out a lot, I mean a tremendous amount, of this gas. You could hear it but I could see it. I think, to me, that was the scariest part,” Winn said.

David Ludlam from the Western Slope Colorado Oil and Gas Association said the video isn't everything that meets the eye.

"Ms. Winn’s stunt is political theater. It's meant to put, political pressure on Colorado senate representatives,” said Ludlum.

Ludlum believes the BLM Methane Rule is a federal overreach and it should be repealed.

“Congress has given the jurisdictional authority [over air quality] to the EPA. The BLM has not been given the authority to regulate air admissions, the reason for that is, they do not have the expertise,” Ludlum said.

Currently, the bill has passed the House and both agencies are playing the waiting game for the Senate verdict.

“Colorado has the strongest regulations in the nation in regards to air quality,” said Ludlum.

Colorado's methane rule requires companies to capture the methane that escapes. With the federal BLM rule, wells like the one on the Uintah Basin will also be required to stop methane leaks.

it's something the industry said is expensive and an unnecessary cost.

Even if the federal rules are struck down, Colorado's rule would remain in place.

Winn is concerned methane from wells in neighboring states could travel into Colorado, and is asking for the federal government to step in.

“Air pollution knows no boundaries; a lot of ends up in our valley,” said Winn.