The Interior Department's Bureau of Land Management (BLM) said it has made online filing the default method for filing permits for oil and natural gas drilling, a move designed to not only save paper but make the permitting process more efficient and transparent.
Under Onshore Order No. 1, electronic, or "e-filing," will now be the default method for submitting Applications for Permit to Drill (APD) and Notices of Staking.
In a statement last week, BLM said that since it began developing the new online permitting system, nearly 500 operators representing 70 companies provided the agency with valuable feedback and took part in training. According to BLM, regulators have reviewed and approved about 200 permits to date, while an additional 1,300 permits are currently being processed.
"Today's rule concludes another key element of our oil and gas modernization program by moving BLM away from the hardcopy application process," said BLM Director Neil Kornze. He added that the outgoing Obama administration "has updated a number of business processes in the oil and gas program that will result in a better and more efficient experience for both industry and the BLM."
BLM started implementing the new system in phases, beginning in October 2015. The agency said the new system will help it reduce APD processing times by up to 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.
BLM completed an upgrade to its e-filing system last summer.
"By making e-filing the default means of submittal, as opposed to hard copy submittals, the new rule maximizes the opportunities presented by the new permit processing system," BLM said. The agency also conceded that since "e-filing may not always be possible, the rule allows operators to request a waiver from the e-filing requirement in certain circumstances."
The e-filing system is part of BLM's upgraded Automated Fluid Minerals Support System (AFMSS II). The agency said that system will ultimately track and organize information regarding oil and gas operations on federal lands. "When completely built out, AFMSS II will contain all of the relevant documents about a well, from the time the APD is submitted to when the well is shut in," the agency said.