Sen. Heidi Heitkamp: Why I voted to uphold BLM methane flaring rule

When North Dakota is blessed with natural resources like oil, gas, coal and wind, the last thing we want to do is waste them. That's why I voted against overturning a federal rule that will help limit methane emissions from oil and natural gas we...

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Heidi Heitkamp

When North Dakota is blessed with natural resources like oil, gas, coal and wind, the last thing we want to do is waste them.

That's why I voted against overturning a federal rule that will help limit methane emissions from oil and natural gas wells on public or tribal land-resources that belong to American taxpayers and tribes.

We need to harness those resources so they can power homes and businesses across the country, and so taxpayers and tribal communities get royalties they are owed when those resources are extracted from their land. According to Taxpayers for Common Sense, the estimated value of gas lost on federal and tribal lands was $440 million in 2014.

The rule would require oil and gas companies to avoid wasting methane that is flared, and much of it is modeled after North Dakota's successful regulations that have helped reduce waste in the state.

This rule also reinforces the critical work North Dakota has done already to reduce flaring, and it will make sure other states follow our lead. It also reduces emissions of one of the most potent greenhouse gases, while supporting a successful energy industry and good jobs.


Over the past several months, I heard from North Dakotans on both sides of this issue and have seriously weighed all of their concerns. Multiple tribes in North Dakota-including MHA Nation, whose people live in an area where one-fifth of production in the state occurs-had expressed serious issues with overturning this rule.

The MHA Nation Tribal Business Council sent a letter against overturning the rule, and Standing Rock passed a resolution to uphold the rule.

This rule isn't perfect. It needs to be improved so that it works better for the energy industry, landowners and tribes. Just a few weeks ago, I spoke with U.S. Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke about the rule, and he said he agreed with 80 percent to 90 percent of it.

I encouraged him to revise it. The secretary already has a variety of tools at his disposal to make the rule better. News reports say he is now in the process of doing just that.

I also sent him a letter outlining some of my suggestions to reform the rule so it provides a better return on royalties without preventing a decline of oil production on public and tribal lands. Industry and regulators have legitimate concerns about parts of the rule, but there have always been multiple viable options available to achieve a more workable rule.

If Congress had rescinded the rule, neither this administration nor any future administration would have been able to implement any regulations preventing the waste of methane going forward-with American taxpayers and tribes losing out as a result.

Simply put, the vote was a choice between improving a rule or not having any rule to stop waste from flaring in the future.

There have been heated words said about this vote, so also let's be very clear about what this rule does not do.


It won't significantly impact North Dakota's flaring reduction goals because our state has already put in place an aggressive plan to reduce methane waste. It won't impact wells on state or private land; only those on federal or tribal land.

And the rule provides wide authority for Secretary Zinke and the Bureau of Land Management to waive the rule for wells where it would make production non-economical-reducing the overall impact of the rule on producers even further.

For decades, I've worked to implement rules and laws that support safe, responsible energy development in North Dakota, including working to develop and implement the first flaring rules for the state when I served on the Industrial Commission during my tenure as attorney general. Earlier this year, I voted to overturn a one-size-fits-all rule that would have impacted mining practices in our state. And in 2015, I played a key role in negotiating a bipartisan deal to lift the decades-old ban on exporting oil.

My goal with rule is simple. I'm working to get a revised rule that reduces waste and also works for landowners, states, tribes, American taxpayers and the energy industry.

As the acting assistant secretary of the interior for land and minerals said after the vote, "The vote today in the Senate doesn't impact the administration's commitment to spurring investment in responsible energy development and ensuring smart regulatory protections." I couldn't agree more.

Heitkamp, a Democrat, represents North Dakota in the U.S. Senate.

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