U.S. delays rule on methane emissions from federal lands

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The Trump administration will delay an Obama-era rule limiting emissions of the powerful greenhouse gas methane from oil and gas operations on federal and tribal lands, it said on Thursday, a move slammed by environmentalists.

The Bureau of Land Management, an office of the Department of Interior, will officially suspend the rule on Friday to “avoid imposing likely considerable and immediate compliance costs on operators for requirements that may be rescinded or significantly revised in the near future,” it said in a document to be published on Friday.

Implementation will be delayed one year until Jan. 17, 2019.

Energy companies say the rule, finalized at the end of the Obama administration, could cost them tens of thousands of dollars per well, and some driller groups had sued the previous administration.

The implementation deadline and substance of the rule could be changed as the Trump administration is expected to announce a new draft in coming weeks in line with its policy of maximizing fossil fuel production and dismantling regulations it says prevent job growth.

The rule targets accidental leaks and intentional venting of methane from operations on public lands, where about 9 percent of the country’s natural gas and 5 percent of its oil was produced last fiscal year. Some of its 2017 provisions have already been phased in but the majority has yet to go into effect.

Drillers who had sued the Obama administration over the rule welcomed the delay. “It makes no sense for companies to comply with a rule that is being significantly rewritten,” said Kathleen Sgamma, president of Western Energy Alliance, a trade association representing more than 300 companies.

The American Petroleum Institute, which has opposed the rule, this week launched a voluntary program to report emissions cuts of methane from oil and gas operations.

Environmentalists said the administration was handing management of the lands to industry. Chase Huntley, the energy and climate director at the Wilderness Society, said delaying the rule demonstrates the lengths to which President Donald Trump and Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke will “gut land, water, and climate protections to help oil and gas companies make a quick buck.”

Reporting by Timothy Gardner; Editing by Richard Chang