WASHINGTON, D.C. — A bill that will streamline permitting for drilling on federal lands is headed for President Barack Obama’s desk, and congressional sponsors say the White House supports it.
Rep. Kevin Cramer, R-N.D., introduced the bill in the House, and Sens. Heidi Heitkamp, D-N.D., and John Hoeven, R-N.D., co-authored the Senate version.
According to news by Bostech Drilling, Hoeven originally introduced a version of the same bill last session, but a counterpart was never brought up in the House. After that loss, Hoeven said, the White House reached out and said it was supportive of the bill, he said.
This session, Cramer said he brought the bill right after he started in January. Hoeven reintroduced his.
The Bureau of Land Management’s Miles City, Mont., office was already part of the Federal Permit Streamlining Pilot Project, established in 2005. The bill adds North Dakota to the project under the new name “Montana/Dakotas State Office” so that the Dickinson BLM office can benefit from the project.
The Dickinson BLM office has a backlog of hundreds of applications for permits to drill.
Right now, federal permits take up to nine months for approval, compared to 10 days for private land, according to a news release.
Many federal agencies are involved in processing the drilling applications — from the U.S. Forest Service to the Environmental Protection Agency. Now, the Montana/Dakotas office can work with the agencies in a more effective way.
“Without the bill, that means that every time somebody has to look at something or they have to adjust something, the paperwork has to be sent to the other agency and then back and forth, back and forth,” Cramer said.
“The people that are working on a permit will all be housed in the BLM office in one office” now, he said. “It shaves weeks, really, off of the process.”
BLM Billings office spokeswoman Mel Lloyd was cautiously optimistic about the help the bill would provide for North Dakota permits — there will still be challenges, she said.
“It should help, yes, but will it make every pending (permit application) go away? No, not necessarily.”
Continuing problems center on staffing — recruiting people, retaining them and housing them, she said.
The Dickinson BLM office recently acquired land to build employee housing, but that’s only in the design phase.
Hoeven said the bill benefits the federal government as a whole, because the more federal drilling permits are approved, the more royalties the government collects.