Speedy gas permits?

The announcement by Interior Secretary Ken Salazar this week that his department plans to cut the processing time for oil and gas permits by up to two-thirds is welcome news, indeed. But some skepticism is warranted.

After all, Salazar and this administration have on several occasions publicly stated they intended to do something to boost or speed up oil and gas drilling in this country. But their actions have not lived up to their rhetoric.

While it’s true that oil and gas production in the United States has increased during Obama’s tenure, much of that was on previously permitted public lands or private lands. The Bureau of Land Management said drilling permits on federal lands increased 116 percent during President George W. Bush’s administration, but they have decreased 36 percent under Obama. Additionally, according to recent news reports, the Congressional Research Service said production on federal lands actually declined by 275,000 barrels a day in 2011.

Also, operators complain that it takes longer than ever to secure necessary permits.

Salazar said this week in North Dakota that a new initiative by the BLM will allow electronic tracking of permit applications and make it possible for companies to more rapidly address deficiencies. The hope is that it could cut permit review times to as few as 60 days.

That will be a much-needed improvement from the current system, if reality matches the public pronouncements.


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