Obama-era methane rule survives Senate repeal effort

The vote was 51-49 in the Republican-led Senate

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WASHINGTON (AP) — In a surprising win for environmentalists and Democrats and a blow to the fossil-fuel industry, the Senate on Wednesday failed in a bid to reverse an Obama-era regulation restricting harmful methane emissions that escape from oil and gas wells on federal land.

The vote was 51-49 in the Republican-led Senate with three GOP lawmakers — Maine's Susan Collins, Lindsey Graham of South Carolina and John McCain of Arizona — joining forces with the Democrats to block efforts to overturn the rule.

Graham and Collins had publicly opposed the repeal effort, but McCain's vote surprised many on both sides of the debate.

McCain said in a statement he is concerned that the Interior Department rule may be "onerous," but said passage of a resolution undoing the rule through the Congressional Review Act would have prevented the federal government from issuing a similar rule in the future.

"I believe that the public interest is best served if the Interior Department issues a new rule to revise and improve the (existing) methane rule" administered by the federal Bureau of Land Management, McCain said.

The Obama administration finalized a rule in November that would force energy companies to capture methane that's burned off or "flared" at drilling sites because it earns less money than oil.

Energy companies frequently "flare" or burn off vast supplies of methane — the primary component of natural gas — at drilling sites because it earns less money than oil. An estimated $330 million a year in natural gas is wasted through leaks or intentional releases — enough to power about 5 million homes a year.

Gas flaring is so prevalent in oil-rich North Dakota that night-time flaring activity on drilling sites is visible in NASA photos from space.

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