The Interior Department's Bureau of Land Management (BLM) needs better data to track the processing times for applications of permits to drill (APD) and to prioritize the inspections of oil and natural gas wells on federal lands, the Government Accountability Office (GAO) said in a new report.
"BLM has taken actions to improve management of its oil and gas permitting workload, including revising its permit rule in 2007, and implementing a pilot project to improve APD processing that increased funding and staff in several offices. [But] it is unclear whether the pilot project has met its goals as BLM has neither completed an assessment of the project in the past five years, nor reported to Congress, as required by the Energy Policy Act of 2005 [EPAct], on the results...along with a recommendation about implementation about implementing the project throughout the united States," said the new report by the GAO, the investigative arm of Congress.
BLM reported that it has been "unable to consistently process completed APDs within the 30-days deadline required by EPAct." As a result, GAO said it "found that BLM's central oil and gas database was missing certain data [needed] to assess compliance with this deadline and contained other inaccurate APD processing data." As a result, the agency "could not perform a comprehensive assessment" and without accurate data BLM does not have the information it needs to improve its operations.
The GAO has recommended that the BLM send a report to Congress on the results of the ongoing pilot program for processing of APDs, and whether it should be implemented nationwide.
To mitigate the environmental impact of oil and gas development, BLM has increased the number of environmental inspections it conducted of federal oil and gas wells and facilities from 10,941 in fiscal 2007 to 17,866 in fiscal 2012. BLM attributed the increase in part to addition agency staff in some offices and technological changes in the oil and gas industry, according to the GAO report.
"Nevertheless, BLM's environmental inspection prioritization process may not identify oil and gas wells that pose the greatest environmental risk because the agency's central oil and gas database does not include data on the environmental inspection history of many wells...GAO's review of data on approximately 60,330 federal oil and gas wells found no record in BLM's database of 24,840 wells ever having received an environmental inspection. In addition, GAO found inconsistent documentation of inspections and enforcement actions across BLM offices."