Internal report finds BLM can speed oil, gas permitting

The Interior Department’s Office of Inspector General (OIG) said it recommended six actions that could help speed up the Bureau of Land Management’s (BLM) considerations of oil and gas drilling on federal and Indian land, a process that often takes more than a year currently.

OIG researchers found that the BLM’s 33 offices that consider drilling applications do not hold officials accountable for timely processing, do not have timelines or performance goals and are understaffed to handle the United States’ recent energy boom.

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That results in delays that deprive the federal and Indian governments of royalties while holding back energy development, the OIG said Monday.

“DOI faces many challenges in processing the large volume of APDs in a timely manner, the OIG concluded. “Nevertheless, we believe the bureaus have many opportunities to expedite permit processing.”

The report recommended that the BLM set performance standards and timelines, appoint an official in each office to take charge of drilling application timeliness and adopt some of the best practices from individual offices throughout the agency.

The OIG’s findings came as Republicans are more loudly criticizing the Obama administration’s handling of oil and gas development on federal lands and offshore. A report from the Congressional Research Service released in April found that oil production dropped 9 percent on federal property between 2009 and 2013, and gas production fell 28 percent in the same time period.

Rep. Doc Hastings (R-Wash.), chairman of the House Natural Resources Committee, said the report is “further evidence that the Obama administration is one of the biggest roadblocks to oil and natural gas production on federal lands.”

The House passed a bill last week, sponsored by Hastings and others, to expand drilling on federal property and expedite applications.

The OIG said the BLM concurred with all six of its recommendations for improving the application process.

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