Bureau of Land Management Proposes Digital Permit System

The U.S. Bureau of Land Management (BLM) hopes to significantly decrease the average wait time on permit approval with a newly proposed online system. Announced at the end of July, the proposal aims to speed up the process for oil and gas drilling permits on federal and Indian land. Currently, incoming permit applications are down 40 percent from their historical average, a downturn that’s attributed to the hugely depleted price for oil and gas. In spite of these dips, however, the permit process is extremely long for companies hoping to explore new drilling projects.

Bureau spokeswoman Beverly Winston elaborated on the proposed digital permitting process, asserting the online platform would allow 90 percent of drilling applications to be completed within 115 days. By comparison, the average time it took to process drilling applications in 2015 was 220 days.

“The new system is a big improvement over the current, hard copy-based application system,” said Neil Kornze, director of the Bureau of Land Management, in a statement.

While many would certainly appreciate increased turnaround speed from the Bureau of Land Management, insiders are skeptical. Experts such as Kathleen Sgamma from the Western Energy Alliance have their doubts, asserting that an automated system might not result in “significant time savings.” The additional requirements, such as environmental studies, impact the the speed with which a permit is processed. It’s essentially impossible to complete these steps online, which means that, even in a best case scenario, the permitting process can only be partially completed online

These extra provisions were not taken into account by the Bureau of Land Management when calculating the 220 day processing average.

Sgamma explained to Matthew Brown from the Associated Press  the inherent issues with the proposed system. “A drilling application could be filed in January, but surveys of whatever plants are present at the site might have to be done during the summer when the plants are blooming,” Brown detailed from his conversation with Sgamma. “The intervening months are not included in the government’s processing time estimates.”

Due to the notable decrease in oil and gas prices over the last two years, exploration endeavors have dropped off substantially. For example, at the end of July, the price per barrel for oil was less than $43, compared to $100 in mid-2014. This effort from the Bureau of Land Management aims to stimulate new growth in the oil and gas industry.

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