Environmental and Energy Law Blog

Monday, July 17, 2017

Interior Secretary Signs Order to Expedite Oil and Gas Drilling on Federal Lands

As part of the Trump Administration’s effort to increase U.S. energy production, Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke recently signed an order calling for faster and more efficient oil and gas permitting on federal lands. It goes without saying that environmental groups, such as the Sierra Club, are opposed to the order, calling it a giveaway to oil and gas interests.

BLM Permit Decisions

Although current federal law requires the U.S. Bureau of Land Management to make permit decisions within 30 days, wait times for oil and gas companies have ballooned to an average of 257 days. In addition, the number of backlogged approvals in BLM offices in Wyoming and Utah has surpassed 500. ZInke’s order is designed in part to reduce this backlog.

"There has to be a process that doesn't over-delay things so we can't get anything done in this country," Zinke said.

Despite these backlogs, oil produced from onshore federal lands climbed grew from 98 million barrels in 2007 to 175 million barrels in 2015, according to the federal Office of Natural Resource Revenue. In 2016, however, production dipped to 157 barrels due to weak oil prices.

According to the Interior Secretary, the expedited process will adhere to the National Environmental Policy Act, the primary law that regulates development on federal lands. The order also calls for federal oil and gas lease sales at the BLM offices to be held at least quarterly.

By the end of the Obama Administration, sales occurred less often.

Zinke also pointed out that national parks and other major federal land holdings will not be open to drilling. At the same time, he believes that certain regulations are an impediment to innovation that would make energy production more environmentally friendly. Ultimately, the objective is to create wealth and opportunity on federal lands while retaining the Interior Department’s role as environmental stewards.

The Takeaway

While the Interior Department’s order should boost oil and gas production on federal lands, it remains to be seen whether lawsuits will be filed to block the order. In the meantime, balancing the need for energy production with preserving the environment requires the advice and counsel of an experienced health, safety and environmental attorney.

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