CHEYENNE, Wyo. (AP) — Wyoming oil and gas regulators approved new rules Tuesday to limit how much and for how long natural gas petroleum developers may vent or burn off gas from newly drilled wells.
Companies would need approval to vent or flare longer than six months under the rules approved by the Wyoming Oil and Gas Conservation Commission in Casper.
Lower volumes of gas could be vented, or released without burning. Higher volumes would need to be burned off for safety and to limit air pollution.
Gas vented or flared from a well couldn't exceed 45 million cubic feet, or 600 times more gas than an average U.S. household uses in a year, without commission approval.
The commission made up of the governor, state lands director, state geologist and two others oversees a state oil and gas regulatory agency also known as the state oil and gas commission.
Petroleum developers routinely vent or flare gas before they install pipelines that can move the gas to market. The practice was much more common in eastern Wyoming before last year's oil bust, which has only deepened amid low oil prices.
Industry officials and environmentalists generally support the rules that will help state regulators gather more data about flaring in Wyoming, Petroleum Association of Wyoming Vice President John Robitaille said.
"Companies are continuously doing everything they can to get product to market. Given the choice of sending the product to market or not, if the price is economical, I think they will do everything they can to get that product to market," Robitaille said.
Only about 0.26 percent of all gas produced in Wyoming in 2014 was lost to venting or flaring, according to the petroleum association.
"Really we're talking about implementing rules on a very minuscule amount of natural gas in this state," Robitaille said.
The rules are an improvement but should have gone further by prohibiting venting, as North Dakota has done, and requiring companies to economically justify flaring and venting, said Amber Wilson with the Wyoming Outdoor Council.
"More could have been done at this stage to reduce waste and protect Wyoming's air quality," Wilson said.
Other oil and gas industry rule changes adopted in Wyoming in recent years require groundwater testing before drilling, increase the minimum distance between homes and wells, and disclosure to regulators information about chemicals pumped underground.