Tester to Interior Dept.: Cut red tape, speed-up energy permitting
Senator says ‘skeleton staff’ holding back Montana’s economic potential
(BIG SANDY, Mont.) – With oil and gas production booming in the Bakken, Senator Jon Tester is pushing for quicker permitting of responsible energy development in Montana to drive economic development and create jobs.
Tester is calling on the Interior Department to cut unnecessary red tape to better address “the mounting number of applications” to lease minerals, permit wells and develop public lands. There is currently a two-year permitting backlog on Bureau of Land Management lands in Montana.
“The rapid expansion of the Bakken oil field has been a substantial lift for Montana’s economy,” Tester wrote Interior Secretary Ken Salazar. “Further responsible development can strengthen our economy and improve our energy security. To achieve that end, we must have a fully staffed and knowledgeable team on-site to address permitting.”
Oil production in the Bakken formation, which straddles the border of Montana and North Dakota, has risen 150 percent since 2005.
“We must continue to have high standards and thorough consideration of the impacts for leasing and developing our public and public trust lands,” Tester added. “Yet with a skeleton staff this becomes a daunting task.”
Tester noted that there is only one biologist to permit oil and gas projects on tribal lands in Montana and Wyoming.
“At a time when tribes are working to develop their energy resources to stimulate economic development on reservation, bureaucratic barriers of limited staff prevent them from working towards self-sufficiency in a responsible and timely manner,” Tester wrote.
The Interior Department oversees the Bureau of Land Management and the Bureau of Indian Affairs.
Tester’s letter to Interior Secretary Ken Salazar is available below and online HERE.
May 3, 2012
The Honorable Ken Salazar
Secretary of the Interior
1849 C Street, N.W.
Washington DC 20240
Dear Secretary Salazar:
As oil and gas development continues to expand in eastern Montana and western North Dakota, I am concerned that there is insufficient staff to address the mounting number of applications to lease minerals, permit wells and inspect development on Bureau of Land Management (BLM) land and tribal trust lands managed by the Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA).
The rapid expansion of the Bakken oil field has been a substantial lift for Montana’s economy. Further responsible development can strengthen our economy and improve our energy security. To achieve that end, we must have a fully staffed and knowledgeable team on-site to address permitting.
While visiting the Bakken field, I heard from a number of producers about growing frustrations with the BLM and BIA that timeframes for permitting and leasing have continued to expand. As I understand it, there is currently a two-year backlog of permitting on BLM lands in the Bakken region. This delay is partly because nearly half of BLM staff positions in the Bakken area are unfilled. This backlog will only continue to mount as drilling expands and more permitting across federal lands is needed for pipeline infrastructure. I understand that it is a continuous challenge to attract and retain qualified staff in rural and remote areas, especially when they can work for the private sector for three times as much. I urge you to fill open vacancies in these areas and find creative ways to increase retention for qualified people in the BLM’s Fluid Minerals Division.
For the BIA, industry and conservationists alike are concerned that there is only a single biologist to permit oil and gas projects on all the tribal lands located in Montana and Wyoming. As you well know, the distance from Browning to Fort Peck—both places of oil and gas development is emerging quickly — is the same as the distance from Washington, D.C, to Columbus, Ohio. This biologist is crossing the state weekly to visit sites in an attempt to keep up with new leasing and permitting requests. At a time when tribes are working to develop their energy resources to stimulate economic development on reservation, bureaucratic barriers of limited staff prevent them from working towards self-sufficiency in a responsible and timely manner.
I appreciate the attempts your agencies are making to standardize and streamline the leasing and permitting oil and gas process which you announced on April 3 in Fort Berthold, North Dakota. The National Oil and Gas Lease Sale System (LSS) transitions leasing towards an electronic system and offer applicants more transparency and accountability during the process. But these reforms are still far off in the future for those who are working to get permits and leases considered today and are addressing the backlog of permits.
We must continue to have high standards and thorough consideration of the impacts for leasing and developing our public and public trust lands. This means strong reviews, not rubber stamps. Most companies want to do the “right thing” and respect the environment, follow the proper protocol and develop wisely. Yet with a skeleton staff this becomes a daunting task while also reasonably responding to the need to develop or domestic energy resources.
I look forward to working with you to address these challenges and thank you for considering my request.