Zinke issues order to streamline federal permitting process

By Patrick C. Miller | July 10, 2017

Industry leaders and members of Congress last week welcomed news that U.S. Secretary of the Interior Ryan Zinke had signed an order streamlining the process for federal oil and gas leasing permits.

The measure will help the agency tackle permitting backlogs and delays, identify solutions to improve the federal permitting process and improve access to federal land appropriate for mineral development. According to the Bureau of Land Management, early this year there were more than 2,800 pending applications for drilling permits.

“A key component of a successful policy is repairing the federal permitting process so that companies have the confidence to invest and see their projects move forward,” said Erik Milito, American Petroleum Institute (API) upstream and industry operations group director

Although a statute exists requiring the Interior Department and BLM to review and process drilling permit applications within 30 days, the average time was 257 days in 2016. The goal of Zinke’s order is to improve the Federal Onshore Oil and Gas Leasing Program and the Federal Solid Mineral Leasing Program—major sources of income for the federal government.

U.S. Senator John Hoeven, R-N.D., called Zinke’s order an important step toward providing regulatory relief for the energy industry. “This is especially important for western states and tribes, where federal red tape and delays hamper local development,” he added.

Zinke said he is directing the BLM to conduct quarterly lease sales to address the permitting issues. “We are also looking at opportunities to bring support to our front-line offices who are facing the brunt of this workload,” he added. “This is just good government and will further support the president's goal of American energy dominance.”

Congressman Kevin Cramer, R-N.D., said, “Considering the Interior has held more federal lease sales in the first six months than the Obama administration did all of last year, it’s clear the Trump administration and Secretary Zinke are making American energy a priority.”

Secretarial Order 3354 directs the BLM to make both federal oil and gas resources and solid mineral resources on the public lands available for the benefit of the citizens of the United States. The order is in compliance with the Mineral Leasing Act, which requires oil and gas lease sales “be held for each State where eligible lands are available at least quarterly and more frequently if the Secretary of the Interior determines such sales are necessary.”

Dan Naatz, senior vice president of government relations and political affairs for the Independent Petroleum Association of America (IPAA), said, “Long-term business planning and certainty is a critical component to the leasing process for oil and natural gas producers. Reinstating quarterly lease sales is vital as independent producers consider future American energy opportunities on federal lands.”