Glenwood BLM gets high marks for processing permits |

Glenwood BLM gets high marks for processing permits

Donna Gray
Post Independent Staff

The Bureau of Land Management is so busy handing out drilling permits it doesn’t have time to watch over actual drilling operations.

Increased demand for natural gas and pressure from the federal government have caused the BLM to fall behind on inspections. That was the finding of an investigation by the Government Accountability Office that looked at eight busy BLM offices.

It found that those offices, in Colorado, Montana, Wyoming and Utah, for the most part, are so busy issuing drilling permits they can’t keep up with environmental inspections. The offices the GAO investigated were Glenwood Springs; Miles City, Mont.; Carlsbad and Farmington, N.M.; Vernal, Utah; and Buffalo, Rawlins and Pinedale, Wyo.

Since 1999, the number of drilling permits the BLM has issued has more than tripled, from 1,803 in 1999 to 6,399 in 2004.

In 1999, the Glenwood Springs office of the BLM processed eight natural-gas drilling permits. Last year it handed out 179.

Along with the heavier workload has come increased pressure from the administration to expedite drilling permits.

The Buffalo, Wyo., office, which oversees the coalbed methane-rich Powder River Basin, has managed to complete only 27 percent of its required environmental inspections in the past six years.

Glenwood Springs, however, has managed to meet its goals, said field office manager Jamie Connell.

“We have been keeping up and we’re projecting to meet our target for 2005,” she said.

Rather than adding staff, the BLM in Glenwood Springs hired a contractor to perform its environmental and reclamation inspections, she added. The BLM has also added two new employees to help handle its projected 250 permit applications this year, Connell said. Of her staff of 30, about half handle oil and gas work full or part time. In addition, Connell said she calls on the Grand Junction office for help.

“There are between two and three people in the Grand Junction office who handle Glenwood Springs permitting,” she said.

The office is also working to finish the final resource management plan for the Roan Plateau. Although the plan will cover long-term management of a variety of resources, the primary focus is on natural gas.

“It’s an added workload,” Connell said. But the BLM has also hired a consulting company, Ecology and Environment Inc., of Boulder, to prepare that plan.

Some “discretionary” actions such as land exchanges, which often help the agency consolidate its land holdings, have been put on the back burner.

For the near future, if gas activity continues to grow at its present rate in western Garfield County, the BLM office can keep up with its obligations.

“It’s when demand goes up so quickly that we struggle,” Connell said.

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