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News & Flashes

OCC Issues New Seismicity Protocol 03-02-2018

On February 27, 2018, the Oklahoma Corporation Commission (“OCC”) issued a new seismicity protocol for oil and gas operators in the South Central Oklahoma Oil Province (“SCOOP”) and the Sooner Trend Anadarko Basin Canadian and Kingfisher counties (“STACK”) plays. The new protocol requires all operators in a certain defined area to have access to a seismic array giving real-time seismicity readings; lowers the minimum level at which operators must take response actions from 2.5 magnitude to a 2.0 magnitude; and requires some operators to pause their operations for 6 hours at when readings exceed 2.5 magnitude, rather than 3.0 magnitude under the previous protocol. (Readings from the seismic array are necessary because tremors of less than magnitude 2.5 generally cannot be felt by humans on the ground surface.)

The new protocol is separate from existing rules addressing wastewater injection in the Arbuckle formation, in the northern area of Oklahoma. Drilling activities in the SCOOP and STACK plays have far less water associated with them than similar activities in the Arbuckle, where the disposal of produced water remains Oklahoma regulators’ “larger concern” in addressing seismic activity, according to an OCC news release. Indeed, seismic activity in the SCOOP and STACK plays is “relatively rare and smaller on average than [that] linked to injection activity. Most importantly, the risk of such events appears to be manageable,” according to the OCC. Read the news release in full here.

Federal Court’s Order Sends BLM Methane Rule into Force, For Now 03-01-2018

On February 22, 2018, the United States District Court for the District of California granted a preliminary injunction on the Bureau of Land Management’s (“BLM”) attempt to delay certain requirements of the 2016 Waste Prevention Rule (“Waste Prevention Rule”) for one year. In December 2017, BLM finalized a rule to delay the requirements of the Waste Prevention Rule originally effective January 17, 2018 until January 17, 2019 (the “Postponement”). The states of California and New Mexico (California et al. v. BLM et al., Case No. 17-cv-07186) and several environmental groups (Sierra Club et al. v. Zinke et al., Case No. 17-cv-07187) sued to enjoin the Postponement. 


The states and the environmental groups filed motions for preliminary injunctions, the court held a hearing on February 14, 2018, and the court issued its order the following week. In granting a preliminary injunction, the court considered only the Postponement and not BLM’s February 12, 2018 proposed rule intended to replace the Waste Prevention Rule (the “Proposed Replacement”). The comment period for the Proposed Replacement is ongoing and will end on April 23, 2018. 


The separate legal challenge to the validity of the Waste Prevention Rule in United States District Court for the District of Wyoming (Western Energy Alliance et al. v. Secretary of the U.S. Dep’t of the Interior et al., Case No. 16-cv-00280) remains stayed, although two groups of states have already filed motions with the court to lift the stay. The joint motion of North Dakota and Texas seeks to establish an expedited schedule for further proceeding, while the motion of Wyoming and Montana requests that the court “immediately suspend the implementation deadlines in the Waste Prevention Rule until either the Bureau of Land Management promulgates the replacement rule or the Court rules on the merits of the Petitions for Review.”  For now, the Waste Prevention Rule, including the leak detection and repair, emission reduction, and reporting requirements (originally effective as of January 17, 2018) is in effect.

BLM Proposes to Eliminate Emissions-Related Provisions of Currently-Postponed Waste Prevention Rule 02-21-2018

On February 12, 2018, the Bureau of Land Management (“BLM”) released a pre-publication version of a proposed rule (the “Proposed Rule”) to modify the 2016 Waste Prevention Rule (the “Waste Prevention Rule”). The proposed modifications to the Waste Prevention Rule include the elimination of provisions aimed at reducing methane emissions from oil and gas facilities on federal lands. Compliance with these provisions of the Waste Prevention Rule has already been postponed until January 2019 pursuant to a final rule (the “Postponement”) promulgated by BLM on December 8, 2017, though the Postponement remains subject to pending judicial review.

BLM’s Waste Prevention Rule, initially promulgated in November 2016, covers a number of methane emissions sources associated with oil and gas production activities on federal lands, including natural gas emissions from venting or flaring, gas leaks from equipment and facilities located at the well site, and well drilling and completions. The Proposed Rule would eliminate many of the requirements aimed at reducing these emissions, and modify several others to reflect an approach similar to that in effect prior to the promulgation of the Waste Prevention Rule. For example, the Proposed Rule would eliminate the requirement that operators prepare “Waste Minimization Plans” when submitting an Application for Permit to Drill, as well as operational and equipment-related requirements applicable to well drilling operations, well completions, pneumatic controllers, pneumatic diaphragm pumps, storage vessels, and leak detection and repair. Pursuant to the Proposed Rule, the Waste Prevention Rule’s requirements related to gas capture, downhole well maintenance, liquids unloading, and measuring/reporting volumes of gas vented and flared would be “modified and/or replaced” to reflect the policies set forth in BLM’s NTL-4A, which governed venting and flaring from BLM-administered leases prior to the promulgation of the Waste Prevention Rule.

BLM has justified its proposed rule on “overlap” with the Environmental Protection Agency’s (“EPA”) New Source Performance Standards (“NSPS”) and a revised cost-benefit analysis, which concluded that “the value of the conserved gas would not outweigh the costs” of the regulation. Read more about BLM’s justification for the Proposed Rule here.

Meanwhile, the Postponement remains in effect, though it is subject to a pending judicial challenge brought by the states of California and New Mexico (California et al. v. BLM et al., Case No. 17-cv-07186) and several environmental groups (Sierra Club et al. v. Zinke et al., Case No. 17-cv-07187) in the United States District Court for the Northern District of California. Both the states and the environmental groups have filed motions for a preliminary injunction that would reinstate the Waste Prevention Rule’s original January 2018 compliance deadlines. The court heard oral arguments on these motions on February 14, 2018. A separate legal challenge to the validity of the 2016 Waste Prevention Rule brought by several industry groups and states also remains pending in Western Energy Alliance et al. v. Secretary of the U.S. Dep’t of the Interior et al., Case No. 16-cv-00280 in the United States District Court for the District of Wyoming. In that case, the court granted a motion to stay the case pending BLM’s rulemaking to rescind or revise the Waste Prevention Rule, and BLM continues to file status updates with the court in accordance with the court’s order granting the stay.

The Proposed Rule will remain open for public comment for a 60-day period following its publication in the Federal Register. BLM has stated that it intends to conclude this rulemaking effort within the period during which compliance with the Waste Prevention Rule has been suspended pursuant to the Postponement. Nonetheless, the pending motions seeking preliminary injunctions in the litigation challenging the Postponement create continued uncertainty for operators on federal lands, raising the prospect that the Waste Prevention Rule’s original January 2018 compliance deadlines could be reinstated — at least temporarily while BLM finalizes the Proposed Rule — by court order.

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