In a surprising move, on Wednesday May 10th, the U.S. Senate voted 51 to 49 to reject a resolution under the Congressional Review Act (CRA) to repeal a 2016 Bureau of Land Management (BLM) rule aimed at reducing methane releases from oil and gas wells on public land. The rule at issue was published by BLM in the Federal Register on November 18, 2016 (81 FR 83008), and amends 43 CFR Parts 3100, 3160 and 3170 (the Methane Rule).

BLM has stated that the goal of the Methane Rule is to bring the 30-year-old oil and gas production rules in line with technological advances in the industry. The Methane Rule provides numerous rules and restrictions on oil and gas production operations on public and Indian lands, including:

  • Setting an upper limit on routine gas flaring.
  • Requiring operators to evaluate opportunities for gas capture and prepare a waste minimization plan before drilling a development oil well.
  • Requiring operators to use an instrument-based leak detection program to find and repair leaks.
  • Prohibiting operators from venting natural gas, except in narrowly specified circumstance.

The Methane Rule was part of the Obama Administration’s Climate Action Plan, aimed at reducing greenhouse gasses (GHGs) from various industries. While many of the past administration’s climate change regulations focused on carbon dioxide emissions, methane is an important GHG because it has over 25 times the warming potential of carbon dioxide.

Under the CRA, Congress can vote to repeal regulations within 60 legislative days of their completion. When a regulation is repealed under the CRA, current and future administrations are prohibited from issuing any substantially similar regulations. Since President Trump took office, Congress and the White House have repealed more than a dozen regulations promulgated at the end of the Obama Administration. With the Methane Rule set to be the next regulation repealed, three Republican Senators decided to join with the Democrats and vote against the resolution – Senators John McCain of Arizona, Lindsey Graham of South Carolina and Susan Collins of Maine.

Now that the Senate has rejected efforts to repeal the Methane Rule, it remains good law unless and until BLM takes new regulatory action to amend or replace it through traditional rulemaking procedures. More information about the Methane Rule can be found on the BLM website.