Salazar unveils plans to streamline onshore drilling permit process

US Interior Sec. Ken Salazar announced plans to develop a federal onshore oil and gas drilling permit system which potentially could reduce the application review period to as few as 60 days. “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,” he said during an Apr. 3 visit to Fort Berthold, ND.

He said the US Bureau of Land Management will implement new automated tracking systems that could reduce the drilling permit review period by two-thirds and expedite the sale and processing of federal leases. The new system, which is expected to be online by May 2013, will track permit applications through the entire review process and quickly flag any missing or incomplete information, reducing time currently spent amending paper applications, BLM said.

It said most drilling permit applications are submitted now as hard copy, and neither the public nor industry operators can access them or monitor BLM actions, slowing the approval process. The new system will automate the process that follows these applications, improving communications between BLM and producer applicants, resulting in more consistent processing standards and timeframes, and significantly reducing the waiting period, it indicated.

BLM’s Carlsbad, NM, field office is currently using such a system as a pilot program, which has resulted in a nearly two-thirds waiting time reduction, the agency noted.

Industry associations welcomed the news, but said attention now must turn to reducing time spent waiting for federal environmental review decisions. “Today’s announcement sounds promising, but additional reforms are needed,” Erik Milito, the American Petroleum Institute’s upstream director, said on Apr. 3.

Seeking certainty

Kathleen Sgamma, vice-president of government and public affairs at the Western Energy Alliance in Denver, said in a separate statement, “BLM’s plans to make leasing and permitting data readily available and to reduce permitting times from 298 days to 60 days are extremely welcomed by western producers searching for some certainty on federal lands.”

Salazar also announced the launch of BLM’s National Oil and Gas Lease Sale System to provide a standardized format and electronic capabilities, improve workflow process and streamline the phases of competitive lease sales. The system will electronically track BLM’s leasing process from initial public submissions of oil and gas expressions of interest and presale offers, through issuance of leases, he said.

BLM said its state offices currently use varying methods and systems in developing their quarterly onshore lease sales, making it difficult to provide consistent reports and statistics on expressions of interest and presale offers.

The national lease sale system will replace these numerous stand-alone operations and provide a consistent, easy-to-use electronic process for both the industry and BLM employees, the agency said. The system will improve communications, decision making, and interactions with private and industry clients, BLM field offices, and non-BLM land management agencies, it said.

BLM said it has processed more than 15,000 drilling permit applications since 2008, and expects to process 5,500 in fiscal 2012. Producers also hold thousands of BLM-issued permits that currently are not being used for production-related purposes, it added.

Contact Nick Snow at nicks@pennwell.com.

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