Zinke seeks faster leasing, permitting
Order requires BLM to move towards quarterly oil and gas lease sales and speed up drilling permitting on onshore federal lands
On July 6 Secretary of the Interior Ryan Zinke issued an order requiring the Bureau of Land Management to figure out how to meet statutory requirements to hold quarterly oil and gas lease sales and to speed up the permitting process for federal onshore lands.
Zinke said that the Mineral Leasing Act of 1920 requires lease sales for federal onshore lands to be conducted at least quarterly. And, despite a statutory requirement to process applications to drill within 30 days, the average time taken to process one of these applications in fiscal year 2016 was 247 days, according to a press release issued by BLM in conjunction with Zinke’s order.
“Oil and gas production on federal lands is an important source of revenue and job growth in rural America but it is hard to envision increased investment on federal lands when a federal permit can take the better part of a year or more in some cases,” Zinke said in the BLM press release. “This is why I’m directing the BLM to conduct quarterly lease sales and address these permitting issues. We are also looking at opportunities to bring support to our front line offices who are facing the brunt of this workload. This is just good government and will further support the president’s goal of American energy dominance.”
NPR-AIn Alaska BLM administers federal land in the National Petroleum Reserve-Alaska. According to the BLM website, oil and gas leasing in NPR-A is not subject to the terms of the Minerals Leasing Act. Instead, leasing is authorized under the terms of the National Petroleum Reserves Production Act of 1976, the act that established Department of the Interior administration of the reserve. The statutes relating to oil and gas leasing in NPR-A are contained in The Department of the Interior Appropriations Act of 1981. Currently BLM conducts annual oil and gas lease sales for NPR-A.
However, the length of time involved in the issuance of federal oil and gas permits has been a source of frustration for the oil industry and for Alaska lawmakers. In a July 8 press release Sen. Lisa Murkowski expressed hope that Zinke’s order signals upcoming improvements to the federal leasing and permitting processes.
“After years of bureaucratic delay that held back and halted critical projects, this order is yet more good news for our efforts to refill the trans-Alaska pipeline,” Murkowski said. “Although Secretary Zinke is only seeking to do what the law requires, that will be a monumental improvement compared to recent years. I strongly support his work to restore access to our federal lands and efficiency to the permitting process.”
Specific requirementsZinke’s order specifically requires BLM to support the implementation of the quarterly lease sale provision of the Mineral Leasing Act; to identify options for improving the federal onshore oil and gas and solid minerals leasing programs; to identify additional steps to enhance exploration and development on federal onshore lands; to develop an effective strategy to address permitting applications efficiently and effectively; and to develop clear, actionable goals for reducing permit processing times.
And the order requires the BLM director and the assistant secretary for lands and minerals management to report within 45 days on progress made in implementing the order. Other Interior officials are required to identify any impediments to meeting the objectives of the order and to report on progress in eliminating these impediments.