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The Bureau of Land Management (BLM) took steps this week to reverse several oil and gas leasing reform regulations put into place during the Obama Administration.

A newly issued instruction memorandum (IM) updated policies on issuing oil and gas leases to “simplify and streamline the leasing process to alleviate unnecessary impediments and burdens, to expedite the offering of lands for lease, and to ensure quarterly oil and gas lease sales are consistently held in accordance with the Mineral Leasing Act.”

One of the major policy changes is to eliminate the use of master leasing plans (MLPs) when determining where oil and gas development will be permitted on federal lands in favor of individual resource management plans (RMPs).  MLPs had been favored by the Obama Administration as a means of gathering increased input before drilling leases were issued.

BLM declared that MLPs “have created duplicative layers of NEPA review” after a wider full agency review of policies that “unnecessarily encumber” energy production—as was instructed by President Trump’s executive order last March.

BLM is taking other steps to expedite the permitting process and remove barriers to drilling approval.  The IM mandates that the timeframe for parcel review is to be “no longer than 6 months.”  It also sets up a 10-day public protest period “to begin the day the sale notice is posted,” and states that protest appeals “will not automatically halt the auction process.”

During a Natural Resources Committee hearing last month, panelists pointed out the stark differences between leasing on federal and state and private land.  “The 415-day delay average our company faces between parcel nomination and offering for sale is too long. This is contrasted with the 45-day period we see at state level,” Jarred Kubat, Vice President of Land, Legal and Regulatory at Wold Energy Partners, told the committee.

Currently, it takes the BLM an average of 257 days to issue a permit versus an average of 30 days among the states.

Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke previously said that BLM has “not been a good partner” in conducting lease sales or creating an efficient permitting process in a secretarial order issued in July.  Zinke has since made alleviating the backlog of drilling applications a priority.

“Oil and gas production on federal lands is an important source of revenue and job growth in rural America but it is hard to envision increased investment on federal lands when a federal permit can take the better part of a year or more in some cases. This is why I’m directing the BLM to conduct quarterly lease sales and address these permitting issues,” said Zinke.

The recent IM is just the latest development in a series of actions BLM has taken to reduce the regulatory burden on energy production on federal lands.  Other actions taken by BLM include rescinding the 2016 venting and flaring rule and challenging the 2015 rule on hydraulic fracturing, which never went into effect.