In­te­rior sec­re­tary calls for quicker oil and gas per­mits

The Denver Post - - BUSINESS - By Mead Gru­ver

CHEYENNE, WYO.» Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump’s ef­forts to in­crease U.S. en­ergy pro­duc­tion got a boost Thurs­day from In­te­rior Sec­re­tary Ryan Zinke, who pledged to stream­line per­mit­ting for oil and gas drilling and hold more fre­quent sales of drilling rights on fed­eral lands.

Zinke signed an or­der call­ing for faster and more ef­fi­cient oil and gas per­mit­ting to clear a back­log of fed­eral drilling per­mits in U.S. Bu­reau of Land Man­age­ment of­fices out West.

“There has to be a process that doesn’t over-de­lay things so we can’t get any­thing done in this coun­try,” Zinke said.

Fed­eral law re­quires per­mits to be de­cided upon within 30 days, Zinke said, but the av­er­age wait for oil and gas com­pa­nies has grown to 257 days. Back­logs of oil and gas per­mits await­ing ap­proval at BLM of­fices in Casper, Wy­oming and Ver­nal, Utah, have topped 500, ac­cord­ing to the In­te­rior Depart­ment.

Zinke promised not to side­step the main law reg­u­lat­ing de­vel­op­ment on fed­eral lands, the Na­tional En­vi­ron­men­tal Pol­icy Act, and said the or­der won’t open up na­tional parks or other ma­jor fed­eral hold­ings to drilling. Yet some reg­u­la­tions sti­fle the in­no­va­tion needed to make en­ergy de­vel­op­ment more en­vi­ron­men­tally friendly, he said.

“We’re go­ing to be a fair and pru­dent part­ner, but we’re not go­ing to be an ad­ver­sary to cre­at­ing wealth and op­por­tu­nity on some of our pub­lic lands,” Zinke said.

The or­der also will re­quire fed­eral oil and gas lease sales be held in each state at least quar­terly. Sales to­ward the end of Pres­i­dent Barack Obama’s ad­min­is­tra­tion in some states oc­curred some­what less of­ten even as the govern­ment switched to hold­ing the auctions on­line.

The move could end a law­suit filed last year by a petroleum in­dus­try group, the Den­ver-based West­ern En­ergy Al­liance, which as­serts four times a year is the min­i­mum re­quired by law.

“It gets to the heart of our law­suit. We are very much open to see­ing if it is in­deed im­ple­mented and set­tling ap­pro­pri­ately,” said Kath­leen Sgamma, the group’s pres­i­dent.

Fed­eral oil and gas leas­ing poli­cies not­with­stand­ing, oil pro­duced from on­shore fed­eral and In­dian lands climbed steadily from 98 mil­lion bar­rels in 2007 to 175 mil­lion bar­rels in 2015, ac­cord­ing to the fed­eral Of­fice of Nat­u­ral Re­source Rev­enue.

Pro­duc­tion slumped to 157 mil­lion bar­rels last year amid weak oil prices.

En­vi­ron­men­tal­ists crit­i­cized Zinke’s or­der as a give­away to oil and gas in­ter­ests.

“As much as Zinke talks about valu­ing our pub­lic lands and em­u­lat­ing Teddy Roo­sevelt, the truth is that he and Don­ald Trump share the same pri­or­ity: giv­ing Big Oil free rein on our pub­liclyowned lands, what­ever the cost to our health and our en­vi­ron­ment,” Kelly Martin with the Sierra Club said in a state­ment.

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