The Interior Department last month rolled back Obama-era restrictions on methane “flaring” — the practice of burning the potent greenhouse gas into the atmosphere during oil and gas production — despite Secretary Ryan Zinke previously calling the practice “wasteful.”
Energy companies working on federal and tribal lands can now release more methane into the atmosphere, saving those companies millions in compliance costs while denying taxpayers millions in revenue.
Zinke isn’t a fan of the practice, and suggested that the federal government might provide financial incentive for companies to stop flaring.
“I don’t know what the future is, just that flaring is a waste,” he said in March at CERAWeek, an energy-industry conference in Houston, the Houston Chronicle reported.
Zinke made similar comments at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce’s Global Energy Institute forum in June 2017.
“From a point of view of a geologist and a steward of our public lands, I don’t like the idea of flaring methane because it’s just wasteful,” Zinke said. “As there’s BTU coming up, and I don’t know 50, 100 years, 200 years from now, what the value of that will be. So I just don’t like the idea of wasting it.”
At the same time, he has made it clear that the Interior Department is a cheerleader for the energy sector – even telling a group of industry representatives that “our government should work for you, the oil and gas industry” at a conference the same day the new methane rule was finalized.
Zinke, whose congressional campaigns were heavily financed by oil and gas interests, has maintained a tight relationship with the industry.
His deputy secretary, David Bernhardt, is a former lobbyist whose clients included the energy companies Cobalt International Energy, Coastal Point Energy, Freeport LNG Expansion and Samson Resources Company. In August, his deputy chief of staff left the administration to lobby for BP, followed by his energy adviser taking a job with Cox Oil Offshore in September.
When Zinke called flaring wasteful earlier this year, the Interior Department had already started the process to replace the rule requiring companies to capture, rather than burn, excess methane leaked or intentionally released during the drilling process.
The Obama administration estimated that the government lost $330 million annually in natural gas royalties because of methane venting and flaring, not including the environmental impact of releasing a greenhouse gas that, according to the EPA, is 25 times more potent than carbon dioxide.