Protesters speak out on BLM's venting, flaring rule

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GRAND JUNCTION, Colo. (KJCT) -- A law which requires oil and gas companies to capture excess methane, rather than burn or flare the gas into the atmosphere, is going through the repeal process by congress.

It's a Bureau of Land Management (BLM) proposal that passed at the end of 2016. Supporters say the rule reduces air pollution and eliminates the practice of burning off the leftover natural gas.

But republicans said it's over-regulatory.

Protesters gathered outside the Grand Junction post office Tuesday afternoon, asking congress to uphold the Obama administration's BLM methane rule.

Opponents of the repeal said it destroys the environment and air quality.

"There are other toxic chemicals being released benzene, toluene and formaldehyde. Our air quality is in danger,” said Karen Sjoberg, chairperson of 'Citizens for Clean Air'. "That's dangerous to human health and dangerous to the environment."

David Ludlam, Executive Director of Western Colorado Oil and Gas Association, agrees with congressional republicans, who want to repeal the Obama’s ruling that blocks flaring.

"It’s not that we should have stronger regulations...we already do. It’s who should implement them and BLM doesn't have authority over air issue EPA does," said Ludlam.

Mesa County commissioners wrote a letter to Senator Bennett in support of the repeal, saying "if not overturned, will cost the oil and gas industry substantially and could have far-reaching negative effects on production in Mesa County."

Some think the BLM rule is a point of contention between two major industries on the Western Slope: outdoor recreation and oil and gas.

One Grand Junction business owner, Chris Muhr, believes flaring methane is like wasting materials that could otherwise make a profit.

"In my business, I take all of the leftover scraps of metal and recycle them because I get money for those,” said Chris Muhr, president of All Metals, Welding and Fabrication.

Muhr said he works for the outdoor recreation industry and oil and gas companies.

"It would be a crime against my employees if I didn't maximize the amount of income that we had. I look at methane losses from piping and other operations much the same way,” Muhr said.

Ludlam said the BLM not allowing companies to flare is an overreach, but he understands that capturing the gas can be in the best interest of the industry, that way it can still be sold.

"There are some cases, for safety reasons and people on location, when flaring is necessary. We want to make sure that those exceptions -- when it is necessary for safety reasons -- are never taken away from us,” Ludlam said.

Still community leaders said the existing rule is an unnecessary strain on our economy which is already declining.

The rule has already been rolled back in the house. If U.S. senators vote to repeal the law, President Trump will still need sign off on the change.

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