[Federal Register Volume 79, Number 82 (Tuesday, April 29, 2014)]
[Proposed Rules]
[Pages 23923-23926]
From the Federal Register Online via the Government Publishing Office [www.gpo.gov]
[FR Doc No: 2014-09688]



Bureau of Land Management

43 CFR Parts 3100, 3400, and 3500

RIN 1004-AE23

Waste Mine Methane Capture, Use, Sale, or Destruction

AGENCY: Bureau of Land Management, Interior.

ACTION: Advance notice of proposed rulemaking.


SUMMARY: The Bureau of Land Management (BLM) requests comments and 
suggestions that might assist the agency in the establishment of a 
program to capture, use, or destroy waste mine methane that is released 
into the mine environment and the atmosphere as a direct consequence of 
underground mining operations on Federal leases for coal and other 

DATES: We will accept comments and suggestions on the Advance Notice of 
Proposed Rulemaking (ANPR) until June 30, 2014.

ADDRESSES: You may submit comments and suggestions by any of the 
following methods:
    Mail: U.S. Department of the Interior, Bureau of Land Management, 
1849 C Street NW., Room 2134LM, Attention: WO-630, Washington, DC 
    Personal or messenger delivery: U.S. Department of the Interior, 
Bureau of Land Management, 20 M Street SE., Room 2134LM, Attention: WO-
630, Washington, DC 20003.
    Federal eRulemaking Portal: http://www.regulations.gov.

Please include ``Attn: 1004-AE23'' in your comments, regardless of the 
form in which they are submitted.

FOR FURTHER INFORMATION CONTACT: For information on the substance of 
this Advance Notice, please contact William Radden-Lesage at (202) 912-
7116. For information on procedural matters, please contact Jean 
Sonneman at (202) 912-7405. Persons who use a telecommunications device 
for the deaf (TDD) may call the Federal Information Relay Service 
(FIRS) at 1-800-877-8339 to contact the above individuals during 
business hours. FIRS is available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.


I. Public Comment Procedures

    Written comments or suggestions should be specific, explain the 
reasoning behind your comments and suggestions, and address the issues 
outlined in this Advance Notice. For comments and suggestions to be the 
most useful and most likely to influence decisions on the content of 
the proposed rule, they should be substantive, and facilitate the 
development and implementation of an environmentally responsible 
capture or destruction system for methane released in the development 
of federally owned mineral resources.
    The BLM is particularly interested in receiving comments and 
suggestions about the topics listed in Section III of this Advance 
Notice. All communication on these topics should refer to RIN 1004-AE23 
and may be submitted by any one of several methods listed under the 
ADDRESSES section of this Advance Notice.
    Comments and suggestions received after the close of the comment 
period (see DATES) will not necessarily be considered or included in 
the Administrative Record for any future proposed rule. Likewise, 
comments and suggestions delivered to an address other than those 
listed above (see ADDRESSES) need not be considered or included in the 
Administrative Record for the proposed rule.
    Comments, including names and street addresses of respondents, will 
be available for public review at the address listed under ADDRESSES 
for ``Personal or messenger delivery'' during regular business hours 
(7:45 a.m. to 4:15 p.m.), Monday through Friday, except holidays. 
Before including your address, phone number, email address, or other 
personal identifying information in your comment, you should be aware 
that your entire comment--including your personal identifying 
information--may be made publicly available at any time. While you can 
ask us in your comment to withhold your personal identifying 
information from public review, we cannot guarantee that we will be 
able to do so.

II. Background

    Coal, and some other leasable minerals, may naturally contain 
various concentrations of methane. Methane can be recovered from the 
coal or other mineralized seams without mining operations. The recovery 
of methane from coal seams without mining operations is known as 
coalbed methane recovery and is common in the United States (http://www.epa.gov/cmop/accomplishments.html and http://www.eia.gov/dnav/ng/hist/rngr52nus_1a.htm). For Federal lands, recovery of coalbed methane 
is authorized through an oil and gas lease under the Mineral

[[Page 23924]]

Leasing Act. However, in some cases coalbed methane development and 
extraction have not preceded mining, or not all of the methane was 
recovered, and through the process of mining, methane can be released 
from the coal or other mineralized seam into the mine environment and 
atmosphere. Methane in the mine environment can be a significant safety 
issue for underground miners in mining operations where the mine 
methane may concentrate in underground workings to explosive levels. It 
may also make the air deadly for miners to breathe. The Mine Safety and 
Health Administration (MSHA) is charged with regulating mine safety, 
including ventilation of underground mines for control of methane 
concentrations in the mine environment. (See 30 CFR part 75 for coal 
mines and 30 CFR part 57 for other types of mines.) The methane that is 
liberated into the mine environment as a direct result of mining 
operations is known as waste mine methane (WMM).
    The BLM is considering establishing a system for the capture, use, 
sale, or destruction of WMM liberated from federally leased lands by 
active underground mines. The purposes of this Advance Notice are to 
summarize the general issues, and to ask you to inform us as we 
consider how to proceed.

A. Statutory Authority and Federal Policy

    The provisions of the Mineral Leasing Act, 30 U.S.C. 181 et seq., 
provide legal authority for the agency to address the capture, use, or 
destruction of waste mine methane.
    Section 30 of the MLA, 30 U.S.C. 187, provides that: ``Each lease 
shall contain provisions for the purpose of insuring the exercise of 
reasonable diligence, skill, and care in the operation of said 
property; a provision that such rules for the safety and welfare of the 
miners and for the prevention of undue waste as may be prescribed by 
said Secretary shall be observed. . .''
    Section 32 of the Mineral Leasing Act (MLA), 30 U.S.C. 189, states 
that the Secretary ``is authorized to prescribe necessary and proper 
rules and regulations and to do any and all things necessary to carry 
out and accomplish the purposes of'' the provisions of the Mineral 
Leasing Act governing coal leasing and other minerals specified under 
that Act. Further, Section 7(a) of the MLA, 30 U.S.C. 207, states that 
coal leases, in addition to including lease terms about the length of 
the primary term, annual rentals and royalties, ``shall include such 
other terms and conditions as the Secretary shall determine.'' Section 
24 of the MLA, 30 U.S.C. 262, provides similar discretion to the 
Secretary with regard to sodium leases.
    This statutory authority applies to federally owned minerals, 
including coal and methane, on approximately 700 million acres of 
Federal mineral estate.
    These provisions provide the Secretary with broad authority to 
include terms and conditions in coal and other solid mineral leases 
that are designed to diminish the amount of WMM that is vented into the 
air from underground mining operations.
    Section 7(a) of the MLA, 30 U.S.C. 207(a), also makes terms and 
conditions of the lease subject to readjustment at the end of a coal 
lease's primary term of 20 years and at the end of each 10-year period 
thereafter. Based on the readjustment authority, the BLM may readjust 
lease terms to both authorize and require lessees to capture otherwise 
vented WMM to use or sell. The BLM also has authority under the same 
section of the MLA to include such terms and conditions in new coal 
    In addition, reducing WMM venting would reduce emissions of a 
potent greenhouse gas, consistent with the President's Climate Action 
Plan--Strategy to Reduce Methane Emissions (March 2014) and Secretarial 
Order 3289, Amendment No. 1 (``Addressing the Impacts of Climate Change 
on America's Water, Land, and other Natural and Cultural Resources,'' 
dated February 22, 2010).

B. Current Practice

    At present, the following methods are used to remove WMM from 
active underground mines:
    1. Methane drainage before mining. Vertical or horizontal wells are 
used to drain methane from the mineral deposit in advance of the 
mining. Traditional methane drainage before mining is similar to 
coalbed methane development, with vertical drilling from the earth's 
surface to intersect the methane producing seam and that functions 
independent of any underground mining operations. Coalbed methane 
development, and similarly methane drainage in advance of mining, is 
authorized for federally owned minerals through an oil and gas lease. 
While used less frequently, methane recovery can also be developed in 
advance of mining by horizontal drilling within the seam being 
developed from within an established underground mine. Because this 
type of methane recovery is induced by drilling and functions 
independently of the mining operation, recovery from Federal lands 
would require a Federal oil and gas lease and would not be considered 
waste mine methane. Under these circumstances, the anticipated 
concentrations of methane would be greater than 80 percent. A number of 
documents related to drainage and degasification techniques can be 
found at http://www.epa.gov/cmop/resources/drain_degas.html; or http://www.rpsea.org/media/files/project/6cb39f9a/07122_27_ts_overview_current_coalbedf_methane_extraction_technologies_12_01_08_p.pdf;
    2. Methane drainage during mining. Vertical wells are used to drain 
gob (rubble) gas from closed and mined-out areas. As underground mining 
progresses, pressure build-up in the unmined supporting pillars and in 
surrounding rock will liberate methane entrapped in the rock which in 
turn needs to be vented for safety purposes. The majority of this 
methane is ventilated through a series of vertical ventilation wells 
that are drilled in advance of the mine. As a result of venting the 
methane, the mine environment is improved and kept safe for the miners. 
Methane that is vented by vertical ventilation wells for miner safety 
can be released to the atmosphere (currently the most common approach), 
destroyed by combustion in a flare, or captured for beneficial use or 
competitive sale. All of these methods must be done in a manner that 
preserves the safety of the miners. Anticipated methane concentrations 
from ventilation wells are expected to be less than 80 percent. This 
technology is described at the EPA-CMOP Web site (http://www.epa.gov/cmop/docs/ggasrecpv.pdf) or http://www.unece.org/fileadmin/DAM/energy/se/pdfs/cmm/pub/BestPractGuide_MethDrain_es31.pdf); or
    3. Treatment of ventilation air methane (VAM). Methane released 
into the mine environment is diluted with large quantities of fresh 
air, and fans are used to exhaust the air from underground mines to the 
earth's surface. Methane can be released into the mine atmosphere from 
the seam being mined as well as from rock above and below the mine. 
Because methane in the mine environment can create an explosion hazard 
and reduce air quality for underground miners, dilution of the methane 
with large quantities of fresh air is necessary in order to mitigate 
the explosion risk and make the work place safe. Concentrations of 
methane are regularly monitored and must be maintained in accordance 
with MSHA standards. Because the VAM methane concentrations are 
typically less than one percent methane, it probably is not

[[Page 23925]]

worthwhile to collect VAM as an energy source. However, methane within 
the VAM can be oxidized by passing the air through a high-temperature 
grid known as a regenerative thermal or catalytic oxidizer, which will 
oxidize, or burn, low concentrations of methane. The greenhouse gas 
potential of the VAM is reduced by this oxidation process. The 
regenerative thermal or catalytic oxidizer technology is described at 
the EPA-CMOP Web site http://www.epa.gov/cmop/docs/2012-VAM-update.pdf.
    Methane is emitted not only from underground coal mines, but also 
from active surface coal mines and post-mining operations, as well as 
abandoned or closed underground coal mines. In 2003, BLM established a 
policy to alleviate conflicts between coalbed methane development by 
federal oil and gas lessees and active surface coal mining by federal 
coal lessees. That policy has led to a reduction of methane emissions 
from some surface coal mines. Policy and Guidance on Conflicts between 
Coalbed Natural Gas (CBNG) and Surface Coal Mine Development in the 
Powder River Basin, BLM-WO-IM-2003-253 (Aug. 21, 2003). More background 
on mine methane can be found at the Environmental Protection Agency 
Coalbed Methane Outreach Program Web site at http://www.epa.gov/cmop/.

III. Description of Information Requested

General Questions

    As an aid to establishing a safe and effective system for capture, 
use, sale, or disposal of WMM from Federal lands, we encourage members 
of the public to provide comments and suggestions on the following key 
    (1) Technologies and methods for capture, processing, use, 
transport of methane gas (by pipeline, railroad, or truck), or 
transmission of methane-generated electricity;
    (2) Methane destruction as an alternative to productive use or 
    (3) Economics of capture, use, and destruction;
    (4) Possible incentives that BLM could offer to encourage methane 
destruction, capture, or use; and
    (5) Destruction of ventilation air methane.
    The BLM is particularly interested in receiving comments on the 
following questions relating to policy or regulations it may develop 
concerning WMM capture, use, or destruction:
    1. What steps might the Bureau take to reduce WMM emissions from 
mining on Federal lands?
    2. What technologies and methods exist for the capture and use or 
destruction of high, medium, and low quality mine methane? What are the 
design, economic, and specific operational considerations of each 
technology or method?
    3. What are the acquisition and operation costs for equipment and 
facilities that can be used for the capture, use, or destruction of 
WMM? Please also qualify your response with the size or capacity of the 
respective equipment you suggest.
    4. What are the possible financial impacts of incentives for the 
capture, use, or destruction of WMM?
    5. Would cooperative ventures or partnerships encourage methane 
capture and use, and how could the BLM assist with their formation?
    6. What are the barriers to WMM capture on Federal land and how 
might the BLM reduce these barriers to facilitate methane capture and 
    a. From drainage wells?
    b. From gob gas?
    c. From ventilation air (ventilation air methane or VAM)?
    7. Should WMM capture be mandated wherever technically and 
economically feasible and consistent with safe operating practices, or 
should BLM consider the use of incentives to encourage mine operators 
to invest capital for the acquisition of equipment and infrastructure 
required for the capture and use or destruction of WMM collected from 
Federal lands? To the extent the BLM may consider using incentives, 
including but not limited to royalty rate reductions, for methane gas 
or source minerals, or both, what incentive(s) would be most effective 
in achieving WMM capture objectives while balancing this objective with 
the need for transparency and a fair return to taxpayers from Federal 
mineral production?
    8. What kinds of surface disturbances and environmental impacts 
might be caused by methane capture activities, including the 
installation of collection pipes, pumps, or other equipment?
    9. Is there a reason to believe incentives for mine methane 
recovery from drainage wells would affect, either positively or 
negatively, mine safety or coal production and royalty revenues?
    10. How should Best Practices for methane management on Federal 
lands be defined and in what ways should the BLM encourage Best 
Practices for methane management on Federal lands?


    Other important considerations in developing a program for the 
capture of WMM are the economic impacts on prospective projects, 
impacts on the return to taxpayers from Federal leases, and potential 
offsetting effects on net methane emissions. Any shift in mining 
activities away from Federal lands and toward lands with fewer 
operating requirements could reduce the net emissions benefit of 
requiring WMM capture on Federal leases. There is also the potential 
for Federal royalty revenues and bonuses to be reduced. However, if 
operators could sell (or use on-site) the captured WMM, requiring 
capture may increase Federal royalty revenues. The BLM is interested in 
your thoughts and comments about these issues.
    The BLM is also interested in your views on the technological and 
economic feasibility of various methods of reducing WMM emissions, 
including the following:
    1. Abatement by Conversion to Carbon Dioxide or By Other Means. If 
there are no cost-effective end-uses for WMM (either on-site or off-
site sales), methane destruction using a flare or oxidizer is preferred 
to releasing the WMM to the atmosphere. Conversion of methane into 
carbon dioxide and water through combustion or oxidation reduces the 
greenhouse potential of this waste gas. Carbon dioxide, also a 
greenhouse gas, is produced in the combustion of methane (whether 
through flaring or in a combined-cycle engine). However, based on the 
Global Warming Potential (GWP) (a measure of the climate impact of 
different gases that combines lifetime with radiative efficiency in the 
atmosphere), methane is many times more potent per pound than carbon 
dioxide.\1\ In addition, the greenhouse potential of methane is 21 
times that of carbon dioxide with a 12-year life in the atmosphere. 
http://www.epa.gov/climatechange/ghgemissions/gases/ch4.html. Also 
important to note is that most methane released into the atmosphere is 
eventually oxidized to carbon dioxide in any case.\2\ Therefore, 
combustion of methane through flaring or other means has an order of 
magnitude lower impact

[[Page 23926]]

on climate than release of that methane unburned.

    \1\ Forster, P. et al. (2007) Changes in Atmospheric 
Constituents and in Radiative Forcing, In: Climate Change 2007. The 
Physical Science Basis. Contribution of Working Group I to the 
Fourth Assessment Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate 
Change [Solomon, S., D. Qin, M. Manning, Z. Chen, M. Marquis, K.B. 
Averyt, M. Tignor and H.L. Miller (eds.)]. Cambridge University 
Press, Cambridge, United Kingdom and New York, NY, USA.
    \2\ O. Boucher, P. Friedlingstein, B. Collins, K.P. Shine, The 
indirect global warming potential and global temperature change 
potential due to methane oxidation, Environ. Res. Lett. 4, 044007 

    2. Processing for Pipeline Quality Gas--Methane is the principal 
component of natural gas, which is used for heating and industrial 
purposes. WMM may be contaminated with air (or other materials) to 
various degrees when it is released and collected. Contaminants may 
need to be removed from the methane before it can be sold as natural 
gas. A general reference concerning the upgrade of WMM to pipeline-
quality gas is available from the EPA at http://www.epa.gov/cmop/docs/red24.pdf.
    3. Other Mine Methane End Uses--New technologies and innovative use 
of existing technologies are always evolving. The BLM is also 
interested in receiving comments regarding other potential WMM 
reduction methods or technologies that could be applicable to its 
mineral leasing programs.
    Please send or deliver comments to one of the addresses listed 
under ADDRESSES. Please refer to RIN 1004-AE23 in your correspondence.

Tommy P. Beaudreau,
Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary, Land and Minerals Management.
[FR Doc. 2014-09688 Filed 4-24-14; 11:15 am]