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Udall, Barrasso Hail Senate Passage Of Bill To Streamline BLM Energy Permits

on September 17, 2014 - 8:09am


WASHINGTON, D.C. – U.S. Sens. Tom Udall, D-N.M. and John Barrasso, R-WY announced Tuesday that the Senate passed their bipartisan bill to extend a pilot program that has helped the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) balance complex demands, including oil and gas permitting and environmental management, in New Mexico, Wyoming and other parts of the West.

The BLM Permit Processing Improvement Act of 2014, which passed the Senate by unanimous consent, permanently extends a pilot program from the Energy Policy Act of 2005 that was designed to help the agency deal with a backlog of permit applications while balancing other duties. The program, which also established a dedicated fund, has helped streamline operations in BLM field offices in Farmington and Carlsbad, N.M., and Rawlins and Buffalo, WY, among others.

“This is a great step forward for our BLM offices in Carlsbad and Farmington to ensure they will have the necessary resources to balance the complex demands of oil and gas permitting and environmental management," Udall said. “Oil and gas production is critical to New Mexico’s economy and for our children’s education, and I thank Senator Barrasso, Senator Heinrich, and all of our cosponsors on both sides of the aisle for their commitment to keeping this program going.  I am hopeful the House will act quickly to give the BLM and industry the certainty they need to produce for New Mexico.”

“Today’s vote is great news for Wyoming and other Rocky Mountain states who want to decrease permitting backlogs and increase oil and gas production on federal lands,” Barrasso said. “Thanks to Senator Tom Udall and our bipartisan group of cosponsors for teaming up to help advance this critical legislation. Our bill will give local BLM offices the resources they desperately need to ensure oil and gas permits are processed in a timely manner. Now it’s time for the House to act so we can get this bill signed into law as soon as possible.”

Funding for the pilot program is set to expire in 2015. The senators' bill permanently reauthorizes the Permit Processing Improvement Fund, and provides the Interior Secretary with greater flexibility to designate new pilot offices and proactively allocate resources based on shifting oil and gas production trends. Additionally, the bill revises the fee structure, and directs the proceeds to be retained by the BLM to support oil and gas permitting operations.

The Permit Processing Improvement Fund provides approximately $18 million each year for the Secretary of Interior to distribute to pilot offices for reinvestment in additional staff and resources to help improve efficiency, and support BLM's diverse responsibilities, such as mineral leasing permits and wildlife and range conservation. The bill improves upon this program by providing the secretary with the flexibility to designate new project offices in response to shifts in industry demand while directing the BLM to consider public industry reports to reallocate resources more proactively. In order to pay for the extension of the pilot program, the Udall-Barrasso bill adjusts the interest rate that industry receives on overpayment of oil and gas royalties.

In addition to permanently reauthorizing the pilot program, the bill sets a $9,500 fee, to take effect 2016, for applications for permits to drill (APDs). The BLM will retain the funding, which the bill locks in through 2026, to support the agency's base oil and gas permitting operations. Additionally, the bill prohibits the Secretary from raising this fee through a rulemaking, though the fee is indexed for inflation. The legislation further requires that at least 75 percent of funds to be distributed to the state offices where they were collected, and gives BLM the flexibility to allocate the remaining funds.

The bill has been endorsed by the Independent Petroleum Association of America, American Petroleum Institute, Western Energy Alliance, Western Governors’ Association, U.S. Oil and Gas Association, and countless municipalities, trade associations, and oil and gas companies. In a July 29 hearing before the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, the Western Energy Alliance, Concho Resources, Campbell County (Wyoming) Board of Commissioners, and Bureau of Land Management all testified in strong support. 

The bill is cosponsored by Sens. Martin Heinrich, D-N.M); Heidi Heitkamp, D-N.D.; John Hoeven, R-N.D.; Mike Enzi, R-WY; Mark Udall, D-CO; Dean Heller, R-NV; John Walsh, D-MT; James Inhofe, R-OK; Jon Tester, D-MT; Mike Lee, R-UT; Orrin Hatch, R-UT and Michael Bennet, D-Colo., introduced a bipartisan bill to extend a pilot program that has helped the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) balance complex demands, including oil and gas permitting and environmental management, in New Mexico, Wyoming and other parts of the West.