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Interior to Streamline Leasing, Permit Process

Interior Secretary Ken Salazar last week unveiled new federal government efforts to streamline onshore leasing and drilling processes on federal lands.

Interior's Bureau of Land Management (BLM) will be able to electronically track leasing and drilling permit applications in every step of the federal review process, Salazar said in a press conference in North Dakota. He was joined by BLM Director Bob Abbey and members of North Dakota's congressional delegation. The new tracking systems, which will allow missing or incomplete information to be more quickly spotted and dealt with, are expected to be in place by early next year after pilot testing is completed.

The Western Energy Alliance praised the announcement, noting that BLM had adopted "key policy recommendations" in the group's "Blueprint for Western Energy Prosperity" (www.westernenergyalliance.org). "Automation and transparency are key components to comprehensively reform leasing and permitting processes," said Kathleen Sgamma, the alliance's vice president for government/public affairs.

Calling North Dakota "ground zero" for U.S. domestic energy production, Salazar said the state has a huge energy future and is "generating impressive energy production for our country and creating thousands of American jobs."

At the Fort Berthold Native American Reservation, where he met with three affiliated tribes, Salazar said he was at a location that had only a single well operating three years ago, and now there are 245 wells constructed and 112 more permitted. "There has been a virtual energy revolution here; it is incredible to me to see how much progress has been made here."

Abbey said moving from a paper-based to electronic permitting system for leasing and drilling can accelerate efforts to extract more domestic energy resources from federal lands. For the automated system of issuing drilling permits, the average time can be slashed from the current 298 days to 60 days, he said. In a pilot program at the BLM Carlsbad, NM, office, permitting times were cut by two-thirds.

BLM has more than 50 million acres on and offshore that are not being explored, and more than 7,000 permits have been issued that are not currently being used by the industry, Abbey said. BLM is "still receiving new applications daily; it is the industry that ultimately decides whether to purchase a lease and whether to develop it."

The industry has been critical of the BLM processes, and "to some degree" those criticisms are valid, said Abbey. The effort to streamline processes is being done in response to the industry, he added.

Salazar and Abbey both emphasized that the country has experienced a 13% increase in oil and gas production from federal lands over the past three years. Since 2008 BLM has processed more than 15,000 applications for permits to drill, and the agency expects to process 5,500 applications in fiscal year 2012.

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