U.S. Department of the Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke issued an order Thursday, aimed at boosting oil and gas leasing on federal lands.
During a call with reporters, Zinke said the agency was specifically targeting for development places like the Permian Basin in New Mexico, Utah’s Uintah Basin and the National Petroleum Reserve in Alaska. Out of the 700 million acres administered by the U.S. Bureau of Land Management (BLM), he said only about 27 million are currently under lease. He also called out the agency for the length of time it takes to approve permits for oil and gas projects.
The BLM’s permitting process, he said, takes 257 days. Meanwhile, he said that under statute, permits are supposed to be processed in 30 days, and the Mineral Leasing Act of 1920 calls for lease sales to be held “at least quarterly,” he said, “and more frequently if the Secretary of the Interior determines such leases are necessary.”
The secretarial order he signed, Zinke said, holds the agency to the law.
In addition to streamlining the permitting process and holding quarterly lease sales, the order directs BLM officials to process pending permit applications and identify existing policies or guidance documents that impede the agency’s “efforts to enhance exploration and development” of oil and gas resources on federal lands. It also gives BLM officials 45 days to provide a progress report on efforts to eliminate those policies and documents.
“Our intent is to strengthen our regulatory environment by streamlining, providing stability where it’s not arbitrary and simplifying it, so if a company wants to operate commercially on federal land, that return on investment should be known in a short period,” Zinke said.
Zinke also said the administration is giving a signal to the oil and gas industry “that we’re going to be a fair and prudent partner, but we’re not going to be an adversary to creating wealth and opportunity on some of our public lands.”
The secretary, who called himself an “unabashed admirer of [President Theodore] Roosevelt,” said that some of the regulations currently in place for drilling on federal lands are “punitive and don’t allow industry to be innovating, and actually work against environmental concerns.”
Last month, Zinke and the BLM’s acting director both called for reducing the agency’s workforce to meet targets set by the Trump administration’s proposed budget cuts.
Energy dominance is important for three reasons, Zinke said during the press call.
“It’s better to produce energy here under reasonable regulations, than overseas with no regulations,” he said, adding that as a former commander in the military, he has seen environmental disasters in places like the Middle East and Africa that the United States does not want to replicate. He added that energy drives the economy, and contributes to national security. In particular, he mentioned that “Asian allies” desire energy produced in the U.S., which can also be used as leverage.
Much of what Zinke said during the press call today echoed what former New Mexico Environment Department Secretary Ryan Flynn spoke about during a U.S. House Subcommittee on Energy and Mineral Resources hearing on oil and gas leasing on federal lands last week. Flynn is currently the executive director of the New Mexico Oil and Gas Association.
As we reported earlier today, in his testimony, Flynn pointed out that with the leadership of Gov. Susana Martinez, New Mexico has since 2011 successfully implemented regulatory reforms on energy and the environment and drastically decreased the amount of time required to grant air quality permits and applications for permits to drill. He called for the BLM to similarly reduce the time it takes to approve permits and projects.