Secretary of the Interior Ryan Zinke signed a secretarial order Thursday to accelerate a sluggish permitting process that authorizes oil and gas development on federal land.
Zinke’s order aims to resolve a backlog of 2,802 Applications for Permit to Drill (APD), fix a permitting process that takes about 8.6 times longer than federal statute demands, and improve mineral companies’ access to resource-rich areas, according to a Department of the Interior (DOI) press release.
“As is outlined in this order, we will look at ways to improve the process and make sure regulations serve their intended purpose rather than create a mountain of useless paperwork,” Zinke said in the press release. “By streamlining approvals of responsible energy development on federal land, and actually holding lease sales, we will generate revenue for local communities and the Treasury to fund the things we all value like National Parks, infrastructure and education.”
The secretary’s order also requires federal oil and gas lease sales to be held once every quarter.
The Bureau of Land Management (BLM) is required by federal stature to process APDs in 30 days. Permits in 2016 were processed in 257 days on average. Zinke is attempting to fix the problem by reviewing the process and simplifying it by cutting down paperwork on redundancies.
New Mexico has the largest APD backlog at 540 split between BLM offices in Farmington and Hobbs. The Hobbs office is located in southeastern New Mexico and on top of the Permian Basin, one of the most productive oil fields in the nation. The state’s petroleum production has doubled since 2009 and now produces more than 4 percent of the United States crude oil.
House Committee on Natural Resources chairman Republican Rob Bishop of Utah supported Zinke’s order.
“Secretary Zinke’s commitment to foster regulatory certainty and unleash our energy potential is a welcome shift in priorities at Interior,” Bishop said in a statement. “We will be working in close coordination with the Secretary to provide the Department with the statutory tools to ensure that responsible energy development on federal lands is no longer held hostage to intransigent bureaucracy and ludicrous permitting delays.”
Environmentalists have criticized Zinke’s order and accused the secretary of favoring oil companies over the environment.
“As much as Zinke talks about valuing our public lands and emulating Teddy Roosevelt, the truth is that he and Donald Trump share the same priority: giving Big Oil free rein on our publicly-owned lands, whatever the cost to our health and our environment,” the Sierra Club’s Kelly Martin said according to The New York Times.
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