Interior to expedite review of onshore oil drilling permits

Interior’s Bureau of Land Management (BLM) said it will implement an “automated tracking system” that will make it easier for the agency to communicate with applicants for onshore drilling permits. BLM said the new system will reduce the amount of time it takes to review the applications by two-thirds. The system is slated to be in place by May 2013, according to BLM.

Separately, the agency said it is launching the National Oil and Gas Lease Sale System, which is aimed at making onshore oil-and-gas lease sales more efficient by tracking them electronically.

“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,” Salazar said.

“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.”

The plans received a lukewarm response from the oil industry.

“Today’s announcement sounds promising but additional reforms are needed,” Erik Milito, upstream director at the American Petroleum Institute, said in a statement.

“We support any system that will ensure efficiency and a clear, consistent application process. Most important, the administration needs to significantly reduce the unnecessary multi-year timeframe for environmental reviews and open areas that remain off limits for responsible energy development.”

The announcement comes amid sustained Republican criticism of Obama’s energy policies. The GOP says the president is not doing enough to expand domestic production, arguing that more drilling will lower gasoline prices.

But energy experts say federal policymakers have little effect on gasoline prices in the short term, as they are tethered to oil prices, which are set on world markets. Even a dramatic expansion of domestic oil-and-gas leasing would have little short-term impact on prices, they say.

The administration has launched a full-court press in recent weeks to undercut the GOP criticism of Obama on energy. The president embarked on a four-state tour last month during which he highlighted his "all-of-the-above" energy strategy.

Production on federal land and waters has increased during Obama’s tenure in the White House, but offshore production dipped in 2011, according to Energy Information Administration data.