BLM not apologizing for drilling review pace
While oil and gas producers think the U.S. Bureau of Land Management is slowing them down with time-consuming regulations, the BLM thinks the process works just fine.
Work on the Bush administration’s national energy policy has renewed the debate over government delays in processing applications for oil and gas drilling on public lands.
Last week, BLM held a series of meetings in Denver to find ways to make the process more efficient.
Anne Huebner, manager of the Glenwood Springs field office, said the process works well, but there’s always room for improvement.
“I am basically happy with the way it works,” she said. “Both the industry and us need to look and plan ahead.”
BLM’s Glenwood Springs office processed 53 applications for a permit to drill (APD) last year, a 160 percent increase in the yearly number of permits issued over the last three years, she said.
She expects the office to issue about 60 permits this year.
Huebner took issue with producers who said last week that the government is mandated to issue applications within 30 days of receiving an application.
A survey by the Independent Petroleum Association of Mountain States of BLM data found that APDs take an average of 87 days to be processed and issued by BLM. IPAMS wants that process streamlined to 30 days.
“That was one of the biggest discussions,” Huebner said after the meeting. “Onshore Order 1 says that the 30 days may sometimes be exceeded if it is necessary to prepare an environmental assessment, and in all cases if it’s necessary to prepare an environmental impact statement.”
Onshore Order 1 is the Department of Interior’s set of regulations governing drilling permits.
Most applications for new wells require an environmental assessment, which is mandated by the National Environmental Policy Act of 1969, Huebner said.
“I don’t believe it’s possible to prepare an EA in 30 days,” she said.
In the Glenwood Springs area, EAs can take even more time because five “special status” plant species have been identified in the area where natural gas drillers are operating, Huebner said.
The plants can only be identified when they are blossoming in the spring, Huebner said. And that may hold up a gas producer’s plans for drilling.
“It definitely takes a lot of planning on BLM and industry’s part to get clearances done,” she said.
Another problem is that some drillers submit incomplete applications, although she would not say how many the Glenwood Springs office receives.
“We’re trying to look at business practices that could be improved,” Huebner said, “like complete APDs. This office has always notified producers if an APD is not complete within 30 days.”
Producers have also complained that BLM doesn’t have the manpower to handle APDs.
The Glenwood Springs BLM office has hired a new resource specialist, Bill Barter, to handle oil and gas issues. He replaces Dan Sokal, who held the position for 15 years and is now the fire team leader.
But Huebner also said the field office has a lot of other business to take care of. Only a few EAs are conducted by office staff, she said.
She suggests companies hire their own consultants to conduct an EA in order to meet their desired timeframe.
If the company relies on BLM for the EA, “it may not get done in the time frame they want,” she said.
During last week’s meeting producers also questioned EA requirements for directional drilling. Directional drilling is done from an existing well pad but in a different direction from the original bore.
BLM requires EAs for directional wells even though they do not impact the ground surface, Huebner said.
New bores also mean additional traffic on roads, she said.
“Directional drilling is very much supported by citizens because it has less impacts,” she said. But to say there are no impacts is not true, she said.
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