Methane waste rule backed by strong organizing

by Emily Hornback, WCC Organizer

People living with the impacts of oil and gas development around the country had reason to cheer on May 10. In a nail-biter decision, the U.S. Senate voted 51-49 to uphold a key rule that requires oil and gas companies to capture wasted methane gas from operations on public and tribal lands.

The oil and gas industry had launched its assault on the Bureau of Land Management’s Methane Rule the moment it was finalized in November 2016.

“This rule has widespread support from people across the West and across the political spectrum,” said Rodger Steen, chair of WCC’s Oil and Gas Committee. “It saves taxpayers money on lost royalties from oil and gas resources on public lands that are literally being flared, leaked, and vented into the air. It is good to see that common sense protections supported by a majority of people across the country can still win the day in Congress.”

Despite obvious public support of the rule, industry groups spent an estimated $100 million in lobbying efforts to kill it. However, this time around, grassroots power trumped the deep pockets of the American Petroleum Institute in an unprecedented win.

The vote went largely along party lines, but three Republican Senators halted the motion with swing votes. Colorado Sen. Michael Bennet (D) staunchly supported the rule, but Sen. Cory Gardner (R) ultimately failed to stand with 83% of his constituents who supported the rule and, instead, voted with Big Oil.

WCC and its sister organizations in the Western Organization of Resource Councils have been working toward this victory for decades. Most recently, WCC members have:

  • Participated in a trip to eastern Utah to document cross-border methane pollution with an infrared camera;
  • Held a rally on Tax Day to highlight the millions of dollars American taxpayers are losing in royalties;
  • Met with the staff of Sens. Gardner and Bennet in Grand Junction and Washington, D.C.;
  • Submitted dozens of letters to regional papers in support of the rule; and
  • Documented people’s stories on

It is the experiences of real people dealing with oil and gas development that won the support of key senators in this vote on the methane rule.

“Natural gas pollution can make it extremely difficult for children and older adults such as myself to breathe,” said Kristin Winn in a guest blog on WCC’s website. “Here in western Colorado, we see the results of air pollution from the west being blown into our cities and towns. Air pollution knows no boundaries.”

However, industry continues to use its influence in the new administration, with the BLM and the Environmental Protection Agency announcing extensive suspensions of the methane pollution rules. So WCC, WORC and our allies will again be tracking these manipulations and organizing people to respond. In addition, WORC, Fort Berthold POWER. and several allies filed suit on July 10 challenging BLM’s decision to stop implementation of its methane waste rule.

Adapted from the Clarion, the newsletter of the Western Colorado Congress.