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Interior Department Head Wants to Speed Up Drilling on Public Lands

Tim Hurst

Supporters of oil and gas development are praising an order signed by Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke on Thursday calling for expedited drilling on public lands. The order directs the Bureau of Land Management to offer more-frequent lease sales, improve the permitting process on federal lands, and try to improve access to new public parcels appropriate for mineral development. In a release, the Interior Department said the average time to review a permit application is 257 days, although statute calls for a 30-day process. The department said that as of January 31st, the BLM had 2.802 pending applications for drilling permits. The agency’s Farmington, New Mexico, Field office had the fifth-highest number of applications pending nationwide, with 152. The Farmington Daily-times Reports that a spokesman for the New Mexico Oil and Gas Association, Robert McEntyre, hailed Zinke’s order as “great news for future energy production and leasing in New Mexico.” But environmental groups were swift to denounce the order. In a statement, the executive director of the Western Values Project, Chris Saeger, said companies already have leases to millions of acres where they aren’t drilling because of low energy prices. Saeger said, “The only people who think oil and gas companies don’t have enough public land to drill on are oil and gas companies and the politicians they bought.”

Gail Binkly is a career journalist who has worked for the Colorado Springs Gazette and Cortez Journal, and was the editor of the Four Corners Free Press, based in Cortez.
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