The Interior Department's Bureau of Land Management (BLM) has completed an upgrade to its online drilling permit processing system and will now handle all such applications electronically.

BLM said it intends to handle all oil and gas drilling permit applications electronically by the end of the year.  To help make that possible, the agency also announced that it was proposing a minor regulatory change to Onshore Order No. 1, which would make electronic, or "e-filing," the default method for submitting permit applications.

"This modern, online system will result in a better and more efficient experience for both industry and the BLM," said BLM Director Neil Kornze. "The new system is a big improvement over the current, hard copy based application system.

BLM started implementing the new system in phases, beginning in October 2015. The agency said the new system will help it reduce processing times by 50%, while also increasing efficiency and transparency during the permit review and approval process. According to BLM, the average time it takes to process a permit is currently 220 days, but it expects 90% of permit decisions will be made within 115 days -- on permits where BLM is the sole surface management agency -- after the new e-filing system is fully functional.

The new e-filing system will automatically flag missing or incomplete information, eliminating one of the primary causes for delays in the permitting process, BLM said. The new system will also allow applicants to track their permits through the entire review process.

Field offices are already using the new system, and 101 applications have been processed to date. "The experience with these applications suggests that the new system will achieve the anticipated processing time reductions," BLM said.

Under Onshore Order No. 1, the current default method for submitting permit applications is via hard copy. BLM said it would accept public comments on the proposed rule to make e-filing the default method for such permit applications through Aug. 29.

"Recognizing that extenuating circumstances may exist, the proposed update to Onshore Order No. 1 includes a waiver process that would allow operators to file via hard copy in certain circumstances, such as when online access may be limited or nonexistent," BLM said. "The proposed rule would also apply to Notices of Staking, which serve as a request by oil and gas operators to schedule an on-site inspection of a prospective well location."