14 March 2023
As I crested the ridgetop in the early twilight hours on Nevada’s opening day of elk season, I spotted the herd at the bottom of the canyon. Following their tracks through the fresh snow allowed me to take the quickest and safest path down the mountain to close the distance. It all happened quickly, but in short order, I was standing next to my year’s supply of meat. But there was one last hurdle, hiking the hundreds of pounds of meat back up the mountain to camp. Even though the state’s wanton waste law makes it illegal to leave behind any edible parts of your animal, my moral compass ensured that I wasn’t going to quit until every ounce of the meat was removed from that mountain.
As a hunter and a fisherman, I see the casual waste of a natural resource as unethical, especially if you apply the same wanton waste laws that apply to hunting and fishing to the energy industry. So why are we allowing the energy industry to waste a valuable resource like natural gas?
In states where oil and gas development is prevalent, hunters like me across the West have often encountered the flaring of wellheads that light up the horizon. Simply put, oil and gas operators routinely flare natural gas to reduce pressure on equipment or to burn gas where there isn’t sufficient infrastructure to transport it. Although the operators think of this natural gas as a waste product, it is actually a natural resource that has a high dollar value attached to it.
Flaring and venting gas wastes a valuable source of energy. Our Nevada power utilities have increased our energy costs citing that natural gas is becoming a rarer resource causing my home energy bill to increase by over 100 percent over the past four months. On public lands, this waste is cheating the resource owners out of their compensation. Spoiler alert: We are the resource owners. Hunting and fishing regulations provide a good example of how we should manage our natural resources, and it’s time that the oil and gas industry takes a cue from our responsible practices.
In addition to being wasteful, the flaring and venting releases methane into the atmosphere, which is a greenhouse gas 80 times more powerful than carbon dioxide in a 20-year period. If we want to tackle the climate crisis, we must eliminate methane production wherever possible.
Thankfully, the Biden administration is proposing tough new safeguards to reduce this waste and bring industry in line with conservation principles the sporting community lives by. The Bureau of Land Management is also proposing to increase the royalties charged for the flared gas. Unfortunately, there is no evidence that oil and gas companies reduce flaring when charged more. Those companies are focused on making a quick profit for shareholders and usually it is cheaper for them to pay the royalties rather than install the proper equipment and infrastructure that could reduce the waste.
The Environmental Protection Agency has also proposed tougher protections to limit methane pollution from all existing and new facilities. It would require the monitoring and repair of methane leaks at all sites and would require zero-emitting pumps and controllers. It also essentially bans the flaring of gas unless there is no feasible alternative.
Each day that goes by without cutting methane waste is a missed opportunity to reduce the adverse impacts on the health and well-being of communities and wildlife across this country. We need the Biden administration to use all of the tools in its tool box – at all of its agencies – to enact strong methane solutions that will benefit Nevadans and our nation for generations to come.
Russell Kuhlman is the executive director for the Nevada Wildlife Federation.
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