Waste Mine Methane Policy
United States Department of the Interior
BUREAU OF LAND MANAGEMENT
Washington, D.C. 20240
January 20, 2017
In Reply Refer To:
3400 (300) P
EMS Transmission 01/23/2017
Instruction Memorandum No. 2017- 037
To: State Directors
From: Acting Deputy Director, Operations
Subject: Waste Mine Methane Policy
Program Area: Coal Management, Solid Leasable Minerals Management
Purpose: This Instruction Memorandum (IM) establishes national policies and processes to foster voluntary activities by operators to capture waste mine methane from underground coal or other solid mineral mines. These policies will allow waste mine methane to be put to productive use, where economical, and reduce environmental impacts, while ensuring continued safe underground mining operations on Federal lands.
Policy/Action: For purposes of this IM, waste mine methane (WMM) is defined as methane released as a direct consequence of underground mining before, during, and after the mining of coal or other solid leasable minerals. Due to the relatively smaller volumes and difficulties in collecting methane released from surface mining operations, this IM applies only to underground mining. WMM has historically been ventilated to the atmosphere from underground mines to protect the health and safety of mine workers.
It is the BLM’s policy to analyze the potential release of WMM from new or expanded underground mining operations on Federal lands and to encourage reductions in the amount of WMM released into the atmosphere to the extent practicable and allowable under current authority, and consistent with safety. The BLM will implement this policy through two main mechanisms: authorizing operators to capture WMM, and working with operators to encourage such capture and other waste reduction actions.
1. Including Lease Addenda in New and Existing Leases to Allow WMM Capture and/or Destruction:
Currently, BLM coal leases generally give operators the right only to vent WMM, not to capture it. This effectively prohibits voluntary actions to capture or use WMM, even when the WMM would otherwise be vented to the atmosphere, resulting in no productive use of the resource and potentially avoidable environmental impacts.
Thus, under this policy, when issuing a new coal or other solid mineral lease, lease modification, readjustment, or renewal, the BLM will include an addendum to the lease to authorize the lessee to capture or destroy WMM when the capture or destruction does not risk the health or safety of the mine workers. The addendum is permissive only – it does not in any way require the lessee to capture or destroy WMM. The addendum must reflect the language contained in the applicable sample lease addenda in Attachments A (for coal leases) and B (for solid minerals other than coal).
This lease addendum will be added to all new coal or other solid mineral leases, lease modifications, readjustments, or renewals, unless the lands at issue are already leased for oil and gas or the oil and gas estate is non-federally owned. Where the lands are already leased for oil and gas or the oil and gas estate is privately owned, the addendum may not be appropriate without an agreement between the federal coal or other solid mineral lessee and the federal oil and gas lessee or non-federal oil and gas owner. In this situation, the BLM must consult with the Solicitor’s Office before adding this type of addendum to a leasing document to determine whether an addendum would be appropriate. See Attachment C for direction regarding the use of these addenda on lands owned by the United States in fee simple.
When other opportunities arise that do not involve new leasing, lease modification, lease readjustment, or lease renewal, such as discussions regarding logical mining units, mine plan review, royalty relief, or at any other time it is appropriate to do so, the BLM may seek to negotiate with lessees to amend existing coal and other solid leasable mineral leases that are associated with mines where WMM could be released to include this type of addendum.
The BLM must also consult with the Solicitor’s Office before using an addendum that differs in any way from the sample addenda in Attachments A and B or negotiating with lessees as mentioned in the preceding paragraph.
2. BLM Best Management Practices for WMM
In managing the federal coal program, the BLM will deploy the following best management practices:
- The BLM will meet annually or at another time as determined by the Authorize Officer, with each lessee who is developing an underground mine that is releasing WMM to discuss voluntary actions that the lessee could take to reduce WMM releases. The greenhouse gas emissions data that companies report annually to the Environmental Protection Agency pursuant to 40 C.F.R. part 98 may provide the BLM with a foundation to begin these discussions.
- The BLM should seek to negotiate a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) with willing lessees for methane mitigation to establish common procedures to implement and track the effectiveness of WMM mitigation measures. The Solicitor’s Office and the Washington Office must review all such MOU’s prior to final approval. When negotiating use of voluntary measures to capture or destroy WMM, the BLM will seek, to the extent possible and as allowed by law and regulation, to:
- Protect the health and safety of the underground miners;
- Protect public health and safety;
- Optimize the recovery of methane and solid mineral resources in an endeavor to secure the maximum return to the public in revenue and energy production; and
- Prevent avoidable waste of the public’s resources.
- The Solid Minerals Division (WO-320) will continue to collect and disseminate information pertinent to voluntary actions to capture or destroy WMM to the extent possible.
The BLM may supplement these BMPs in the future if new regulations are promulgated, new statutory requirements are enacted, or new technologies and practices are developed for capturing WMM. The Solid Minerals Division (WO-320) welcomes your input and will continue to provide further guidance on this issue as necessary.
Timeframe: This policy is effective immediately.
Budget Impact: Minimal.
Background: As discussed above, WMM is defined as methane released as a direct consequence of underground mining before, during, and after the mining of coal or other solid leasable minerals. Because methane gas is potentially combustible and explosive, it has historically been ventilated to the atmosphere in order to protect the health and safety of mine workers. While methane is also a valuable natural gas that is commercially developed, WMM is not widely captured in the United States for commercial use. A primary impediment to greater commercial use of WMM is that much of it is commonly contaminated with air from the mine ventilation system. In these situations, the air must be removed before the methane may be sold in commercial markets, and separating the air from the WMM could be costly.
In some situations, however, it may be economically feasible for a coal lessee to capture the WMM for beneficial use or sale. To do so, the lessee first needs authorization in its coal lease to capture, use, or sell the WMM. This policy seeks to address granting coal lessees this authorization in coal leases, as appropriate.
Manual/Handbook Sections Affected: None.
Coordination: This IM was developed by the Washington Office Division of Solid Minerals (WO-320), in consultation with the Washington Office Division of Fluid Minerals and the Division of Mineral Resources in the Solicitor’s Office.
Contact Persons: If you have any questions concerning the content of this IM, please contact me at 202-208-4201, or your staff may contact Mitchell Leverette, Solid Minerals Division Chief, at 202-912-7113.
Signed by: Authenticated by:
Jenna Whitlock Ambyr Fowler
Acting, Deputy Director Division of IT Policy and Planning (WO-870)