Interior secretary unveils plan to expedite gas-drilling permits

Interior Secretary Ken Salazar on Tuesday announced plans to cut the processing time of federal oil and gas permitting by up to two-thirds and to boost the efficiency of the leasing process.

The plans drew enthusiastic praise from an industry group at a time when the Obama administration has been under pressure to encourage increased domestic oil and gas production as a response to high gasoline prices.

The Bureau of Land Management plans to switch from a paper to an automated permit-application system, allowing companies and the public to access them and monitor BLM actions.

The new system will let companies more promptly address deficiencies in applications, cutting permit review times to as few as 60 days. About two-thirds of the current processing time is spent waiting on more information from companies.

The BLM is implementing a standardized, national, lease-sale system that will allow electronic tracking of each step in the lease process by the BLM, industry and others, and it will streamline that process.

Salazar said in a news release, “By upgrading and improving our oil and gas drilling permit processing systems and technologies, we believe we can improve efficiencies while ensuring thorough reviews for safety and compliance. This is another significant step forward in the Obama administration’s efforts to reduce the nation’s dependence on imported oil, spur local economies and create jobs.”

Kathleen Sgamma, vice president of government and public affairs for the Western Energy Alliance, said in a news release the initiatives are “extremely welcomed by Western producers searching for some certainty on federal lands.

“Automation and transparency are key components to comprehensively reform leasing and permitting processes. We’re glad that BLM is taking such positive steps to decrease regulatory timelines, which for many years have created extreme uncertainty for companies trying to produce American energy from federal lands and create jobs.”

In their own release, members of the Sportsmen for Responsible Energy Development coalition credited the increased transparency in the plan, but some voiced caution.

“Sportsmen have consistently supported and promoted energy development on America’s public lands and don’t want to see unnecessary bureaucratic red tape obstructing the responsible cultivation of our domestic energy resources,” said Steve Belinda, senior advisor on energy programs with the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership. “But we will not tolerate sacrificing valuable resources, including our waters, air, and fish and wildlife habitat, simply to cater to industry’s desire for faster permitting.”


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