Oil Wells on Federal Land Face Permit Backlog at Field Offices

Newly released Interior Department data suggest that delays in oil and gas drilling permits are tied to normal government reviews rather than a holdup in the top ranks of the agency.

The Biden administration is slowly issuing drilling permits nationwide, though a backlog of thousands of applications pending before field offices appears to be delaying some authorizations.

Roughly 5,505 applications for permits to drill onshore are now pending before the Interior Department’s Bureau of Land Management. Almost all of them -- some 99.5% -- are currently under review in the bureau’s state offices, according to Interior Department data. The remainder are awaiting review from top career officials at the bureau.

None are pending final decisions from the Interior’s principal deputy assistant secretary for land and minerals management, who is one of a handful of political appointees at the agency temporarily required for approvals of drilling permits, mining operations, hiring and other matters under a Jan. 20 order.

New Mexico’s top oil regulator warned the Biden administration earlier this week that the order has caused confusion over approvals and stymied action on federal lands in the state. Sarah Cottrell Propst, secretary of the New Mexico Energy, Minerals and Natural Resources Department, asked Interior officials for additional written guidance to BLM offices to speed approval of rights of way and other authorizations needed for existing oil and gas operations.

The new data suggest that delays in permit approvals relate to backlogs in the normal bureau review, rather than a holdup in the top ranks of the Interior Department.

©2021 Bloomberg L.P.

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