FARMINGTON — A bill introduced in U.S. Senate earlier this week proposes making permanent a pilot program that has helped the Bureau of Land Management process a backlog of oil and gas permits.
Sens. Tom Udall, D-N.M., and John Barrasso, R-Wyo., introduced the bill on Thursday.
Sheila Mallory, the New Mexico BLM deputy state director, said the bill would authorize a fund created under the pilot program to continue until 2026.
The bill would also ensure oil and gas and reclamation permits are processed quickly at the Farmington BLM field office, she said.
The pilot program was created in 2005 as part of the Energy Policy Act, and funding for it was set to expire in 2015, according to a press release Udall's office issued on Thursday.
The senators' bill would permanently reauthorize the Permit Processing Improvement Fund, which provides $18 million annually for the Secretary of the Interior to distribute to pilot offices. That money is used to hire additional staff and improve efficiency, the press release states.
The pilot program is funded by oil and gas rental receipts, and the Farmington BLM field office has used half of that money to hire staff to process a backlog of oil and gas and reclamation permits, Mallory said.
The bill also allows money from the fund to be shifted to BLM field offices with more active oil and gas activities, allowing for greater flexibility, she said.
"The BLM offices in Farmington and Carlsbad are among the busiest in the country, and thanks to this pilot program they have become more efficient and effective," Udall said in the press release.
The bill would also set a $9,500 fee for applications for permits to drill. The BLM would use those funds for its oil and gas permitting operations, according to the press release. If the bill passes, that fee would take effect in 2016.
Udall is running for re-election against Republican challenger Allen Weh. Weh could not be reached for comment on Friday.
Both Republican and Democratic senators co-sponsored the bill. Jennifer Talhelm, a Udall spokeswoman, said she thinks the bill will pass because of its bipartisanship.
"Certainly, Sen. Udall will be working very hard to get it passed this year," she said.