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Policy: Environment & Energy

GAO report: Feds admit to failure on energy permits

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Beltway Confidential,Joel Gehrke,Energy and Environment,GAO

Federal officials tasked with processing oil and gas drilling permits admitted privately that they failed to meet the legal deadlines for doing so, according to a Government Accountability Office report on processing mistakes at the Bureau of Land Management.

"In a 2013 internal memorandum, BLM reported that it had not been able to meet the 30-day deadline required by the Energy Policy Act of 2005 to process (either approve or defer) completed [applications for permit to drill], and that it has struggled to consistently track the amount of time it takes to process APDs due to data gaps in [Automated Fluid Minerals Support System]," a GAO report released Monday says.

The congressional watchdog cited energy industry representatives who attribute the delays to, among other things, federal staffers who don't prioritize the applications.

"They attributed the differences to inadequate BLM staffing in some offices with large APD workloads, inconsistent standards for processing APDs, and their opinion that some BLM offices place less urgency on processing APDs than other offices do. Industry representatives we spoke with also said that the amount of time it takes BLM to process APDs may make the development of federal oil and gas resources less attractive to oil and gas operators in some situations," GAO reported.

BLM and industry representatives acknowledged that the increased complexity of the applications play a role in the delays, which are taking place even as the number of applications dropped from 8,573 in fiscal year 2007 to 4,303 in fiscal year 2012.

Federal officials attribute the drop in applications to the low price of natural gas; industry representatives and BLM also pointed to the fact that "the increase in the development of shale oil and shale gas has largely occurred on state and private lands."

Finally, industry representatives blamed the federal permitting process for suppressing interest in drilling on federal lands.

"According to these representatives, delays in obtaining permits are costly for operators and may prompt operators to seek to develop oil and gas on state and private lands rather than on federal lands," the GAO report says.

"BLM officials said that BLM must consider multiple uses of the land and that the environmental standards and legal requirements they must follow when managing oil and gas development may differ from the requirements for state or private lands," according to the report.

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