The Department of the Interior's Office of Inspector General released a report Monday that says the Bureau of Land Management is taking too long to approve oil and gas drilling permits, a delay that hurts the nation's efforts to develop its own energy resources.
The OIG said BLM often takes several months or longer to approve applications for permit to drill, even though current law says these permits must be approved in 30 days. It took an average of 228 days to approve APD permits in 2012, but the OIG said it can take several years in some cases.
The Department of the Interior's Office of Inspector General says the government needs to do more to quickly approve oil and gas drilling permits. (AP Photo/Eric Gay, File)
"We found that neither BLM nor the operator can predict when the permit will be approved," the report said. "Target dates for completion of individual APDs are rarely set and enforced, and consequently, the review may continue indefinitely."
"The process is essentially open ended."
The report found that the long review times can be the fault of the drilling industry when it doesn't immediately present all required information, but it said it's also the fault of BLM for failing to manage its personnel resources adequately. The OIG said the bureau had no plans to address the 3,500 backlogged drilling permit requests until very recently, and said field offices are still reviewing hard copy permits instead of using an electronic data system.
The delays appear to be needless, as the report found that BLM approves 99 percent of all applications it receives, but approves just 6 percent of them within 30 days.
The OIG recommended that BLM establish a field-office-level project manager to oversee timely processing, enforce timelines and measure the results. It also recommended that the BLM upgrade to an electronic system, instead of relying on paper copies.
"Using an automated process wherever feasible would also eliminate the time currently spent on printing, making copies, assembling paper folders, and filing," it said.
Finally, it said BLM should work with Congress to reauthorize a pilot project that would help get field offices more staff to process oil and gas drilling permits.
House Republicans have passed dozens of bills over the last few years aimed at speeding up the approval of oil and gas drilling permits. But these efforts have died in the Senate, where Democrats see them as an attempt to undermine environmental rules.
Just last week, the House passed legislation aimed at boosting U.S. energy development in a bid to avoid higher gasoline prices.
And of course, Republicans and even many Democrats have pushed President Barack Obama to approve the Keystone XL pipeline, which supporters say would help supply refineries on the Gulf Coast.