The Bush administration’s proposed budget of $1.7 billion for the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) in 2005, a $53 million increase from 2004, has little that’s new in it for the natural gas industry. It does more for the renewable energy sector than for non-renewable resources.

To help meet the nation’s energy needs, the BLM budget proposal would provide an $800,000 increase in the agency’s Land and Realty Management program to enhance the permitting of renewable energy development and the processing of rights-of-way for both renewable and traditional energy resources.

However, the budget request also includes a much larger amount, $4 million, in “cost recovery measures,” or increased fees, for the agency’s energy and minerals programs, which would “bring fees closer to administrative costs for certain services.”

The White House press release for the Interior Department budget said that the administration set aside funds to “enable Interior agencies to respond to the growing national need for increased access” to energy resources, with “particular emphasis on coalbed natural gas.” But so far no details have been provided on where those unspecified funds will be allocated.

If anything, this budget will increase the burden on western producers rather than help them put more gas on the market, a BLM spokesman admitted.

“We released regulations back in 2000 proposing to recover costs for some programs, and [the Office of Management and Budget] is very enthusiastic that we get going with that,” said BLM’s David Quick. “In one of the pass-backs they said that we should try to finalize our cost recovery rules so that we can start collecting in FY2005.” Quick said the fees will be for document processing in the oil and gas management area, the coal management area and processing of non-energy leases and minerals materials contracts and permits.

“This is an attempt to determine what it actually costs to do the paperwork and then bill industry for it,” said Quick. “It’s not expected to be real popular. At this point, OMB has said this is a place where you are not recovering costs and you should be.

“I don’t know off the top of my head of anything” that is directed at natural gas in the BLM budget, Quick added. “The existing programs themselves are going forward. There is still funding for energy programs, but it’s not a priority.”

The president said the Interior budget does include $1.7 million to facilitate the development of renewable energy resources, such as geothermal and wind power on public lands. “This will enable BLM to administer 30 wind energy rights of way and 75 geothermal leases and conduct additional feasibility and environmental studies needed for wind energy applications.”

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