An Environmental Disaster In the Making
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An Environmental Disaster In the Making

Interior Department Rushes Drilling Permits for New Texas Oil Boom as EPA Ignores Methane Rules 

Your health may suffer as energy companies prosper with help from the Trump administration in slicing up the Permian Basin, a section of Texas and New Mexico rich in oil and gas reserves.

North American drillers plan to spend $84 billion this year, much of it in the Permian basin, which has more recoverable oil than any field outside Saudi Arabia. Citigroup estimates that Permian could be producing 5 million barrels of oil a day by 2020, more than Iran or Iraq.

Interior Department Secretary Ryan Zinke is pushing the Bureau of Land Management to approve drilling applications faster.

“Secretary Zinke and his staff have recently begun giving the Permian Basin the attention it deserves,” said Ryan Flynn of the New Mexico Oil and Gas Assn.

Zinke and Scott Pruitt, the administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency, are working to help oil companies, but they are shortchanging the health of people in our nation by working to undo Obama-era regulations on methane, a greenhouse gas that worsens climate change and has been linked to asthma.

The EPA regulation restricts methane emissions at new oil and gas wells. The BLM rule limits the amount of methane that can be vented, burned or wasted from oil and gas operations on federal and Native American lands.

ACTION BOX / What you can do about it


Call Ryan Zinke, secretary of Interior, at 202-208-3100 or write him at U.S. Department of the Interior, 1849 C Street NW, Washington, DC 20240. Zinke’s Facebook and Twitter sites.

Tell EPA chief Scott Pruitt your thoughts via his Facebook and Twitter sites. His email is [email protected] / Phone: 202-564-4700.

Write him at USEPA Headquarters / William Jefferson Clinton Building / 1200 Pennsylvania Avenue, N. W. / Mail Code: 1101A / Washington, DC 20460

Contact your representative and senators.

The Sierra Club is one of the organizations working to restrict methane levels.

Both rules are going largely unenforced. A federal appeals court has blocked Pruitt’s attempt to delay the regulation.

Environmental groups, including the Sierra Club and the Center for Biological Diversity, are suing Zinke and the Interior Department for not enforcing provisions of the BLM rule. The attorney generals in California and New Mexico have also sued over the delay in enforcing the BLM rule.

“As much as Zinke talks about valuing our public lands and emulating Teddy Roosevelt, the truth is that he and Donald Trump share the same priority: giving Big Oil free rein on our publicly-owned lands, whatever the cost to our health and our environment,” said Kelly Martin of the Sierra Club

The methane regulations were opposed by industry groups such as the American Petroleum Institute which has spent about $2.7 million on federal lobbying so far this year.

A 2010 report by Government Accountability Office said about 40% of natural gas that was vented or flared from onshore federal leases could be economically captured.

The BLM had estimated that the agency’s rule would save enough gas to supply every household in Dallas and Salt Lake City every year.

More than 203,000 Americans, about a quarter of them children, live within half a mile of the 18,000 gas and oil facilities subject to the EPA rule, according to the FracTracker Alliance, a nonprofit that studies oil and gas development.

“How can anyone with any moral sensibility possibly believe that knowingly doing harm to children when the same could be avoided is acceptable?” asked the Rev. Alison Cornish of the advocacy group Pennsylvania Interfaith Power & Light.

Featured Photo: Methane is flared from a Bakken Field well site in North Dakota in 2014. (Photo: Jeff Peischl/NOAA)

July 18, 2017