February 06, 2014

Sen. Udall, Rep. Bishop Urge Renewal of Successful BLM Energy Permitting Field Offices

Additional support for offices in Carlsbad, Farmington and others has helped speed permitting and environmental reviews

WASHINGTON - Today, U.S. Sen. Tom Udall (D-N.M.) and U.S. Rep. Rob Bishop (R-Utah) wrote to Interior Secretary Sally Jewell, seeking to reauthorize a successful pilot program that has helped the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) improve efficiency and balance complex demands, including oil and gas permitting and environmental conservation, in New Mexico and other parts of the West.

The Energy Policy Act of 2005 created the pilot program to improve the federal mineral development permit process and help ensure local BLM offices had needed resources. Under the existing program, the Secretary of the Interior may allocate a portion of rental fees paid by producers to seven specific BLM offices, which can be reinvested to hire additional staff or resources to help improve efficiency and support work on the BLM's diverse responsibilities, such as processing mineral leasing permits and wildlife and range conservation.

Two of the seven offices are in New Mexico - in Carlsbad and Farmington. The others are in Utah, Wyoming, Montana and Colorado.

In their letter, Udall and Bishop wrote that the program, which expires in 2015, has proved to be extremely successful, helping to streamline permitting and enabling the BLM to better manage its additional responsibilities. As part of the process for reauthorizing the program, Udall and Bishop asked Jewell to help them craft "legislative ideas for how to improve and continue the functionality and applicability of the program."

"In the past 10 years, the United States has seen a resurgence of production in the oil and natural gas industry. While this jumpstart has mostly happened on state and private lands, multiple-use public lands have a huge role to play with vast, untapped resources," Udall and Bishop wrote. "In order to see this success replicated on public lands, programs that create a more efficient working environment for producers and permitting agencies are vital."

Between 2006 and 2012, BLM New Mexico approved 7,857 applications for permits to drill, which is more than 20 percent of the total across the BLM, and the high demand continues. Because many permits also involve potash co-development and other complex issues, both the BLM and the industry have benefited from the additional resources made available by the pilot program.

During a visit last year in Carlsbad, Udall committed to working to reauthorize the pilot offices. Udall said he is happy to have a Republican partner in Rep. Bishop to help move the measure through the legislative process on a bipartisan basis.

"Oil and natural gas production in New Mexico generates critical revenue to support state functions, including education and health," Udall said. "The two New Mexico pilot offices are among the busiest in the country, and thanks to this program, they're more efficient and effective. That ensures we're making smart, strategic decisions about our energy future and providing better service to all New Mexicans. We need to keep them humming by reauthorizing this program and making any changes that would further improve on the success we've already seen."

"The pilot project and the pilot offices have proven to be successful. In states like Utah, multiple use of our federal lands and resources is a critical component of our ability to address, among many other things, the state's growing education needs. Now, through the pilot offices and the additional resources they provide, BLM staff are able to more effectively and efficiently evaluate energy opportunities in worthwhile areas throughout the West. It is my hope that Secretary Jewell and the Bureau of Land Management will recognize the merits of this project and agree to an extension," Bishop said.

The text of the letter is available below and HERE.

Dear Madam Secretary:

Thank you for the important work you are doing at the Department of the Interior. As part of the Energy Policy Act of 2005, the Secretary of Interior established a Federal Permit Streamlining Pilot Project under a memorandum of understanding in conjunction with the Secretary of Agriculture and the Administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency. Through this program, a series of pilot offices were established for a ten-year period for BLM offices in Wyoming, Montana, Colorado, New Mexico, and Utah to improve federal permit coordination. Congress supported this program more recently on a bipartisan basis with enactment of Public Law 113-69 in December 2013.

At the time of implementation, these existing BLM offices processed nearly seventy percent of the applications for permits to drill (APD) that were received by the BLM. Through the pilot project, these participating offices were eligible to receive a portion of the rental fees-paid by producers to the BLM-from leases across the continental United States in order to reinvest the capital in additional staff or resources to increase the efficiency of the office. BLM offices were able to use the additional funding to process drilling permits and support other agency resources related to range, wildlife, and archeological conservation.

In the past ten years, the United States has seen a resurgence of production in the oil and natural gas industry. While this jumpstart has mostly happened on state and private lands, multiple-use public lands have a huge role to play with vast, untapped resources. In order to see this success replicated on public lands, programs that create a more efficient working environment for producers and permitting agencies are vital.

As you know, this pilot program is set to expire in 2015. Having been a successful program, we are requesting a reauthorization of this program. We would like to work with the Department to craft language that would be mutually beneficial. We welcome your legislative ideas for how to improve and continue the functionality and applicability of the program. Please send our office your ideas for continued success of this program by March 4, 2014. We look forward to your reply.

U.S. Senator Tom Udall
U.S. Representative Rob Bishop