Our view: What’s happening with those permits, BLM?

The Farmington Daily Times

We’d like to be able to tell you what the Bureau of Land Management has been up to since the early July Secretarial Order by Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke to speed up the onshore drilling permitting process.

We’d like to, but the BLM, since the day the order was made, hasn’t returned a single phone call or email at the federal level. The local and state offices say they can’t comment.

This is a game of political hot potato where the locals pass it to the state and the feds aren’t there to catch it.

The Daily Times has now taken the usually long and rocky road that is the federal Freedom of Information Act to try and pry some answers from the BLM about how it plans to fix a broken permitting process.

More:Cautious optimism over drive to streamline BLM

The Trump administration is completely behind overhauling this bureaucratic, business-choking monstrosity of a permit process, which is why we’re stunned that neither the Department of the Interior nor BLM has decided to take a call or email and tell our Energy magazine what they’re up to.

Those who know that resource extraction is at the heart of our state’s fiscal well being are waiting on pins and needles.

Dust-ups about enforcing the methane rules, and other quandaries that impact working wells, are one thing. They are litigated in courts, and people testify in public. There’s a lot of information out there, and the only surprise is how the judges will rule.

More:Zinke tells BLM to speed onshore drilling lease process

The actual issuance or nonissuance of drilling permits is another matter entirely. This byzantine process, which is supposed to take 30 days, averages 257 days. Sometimes that stretches past 400 days.

The BLM had 2,802 such applications pending as of Jan. 31, 152 in the Farmington office. Each applicant paid a nonrefundable $9,610 processing fee to the agency, according to the U.S. Department of the Interior’s July press release.

There’s no guarantee even with Hilcorp checking on the wells it has acquired and some good results on the Mancos Shale formation that jobs are coming back to San Juan County any time soon. That depends on the willingness of businesses to reopen wells or drill new ones, the price of natural gas and other factors governing the economy as a whole.

More:Mixed reactions to BLM, EPA methane waste rule actions

There is a guarantee, however, that if it’s a waste of time and money to apply for a permit on BLM lands, San Juan County will suffer. That’s where the San Juan Basin’s resources lie. That impacts our real estate market, charitable giving in the community, unemployment and the success of our overall business community.

State revenues from oil and gas extraction pay for a large part of our schools and roads, among other things.

By comparison, the state of New Mexico does a fine job of handling leases, and the state recently held a record-breaking lease sale.

We’re not saying bad permits should be issued and that our local economy should depend on oil, gas or coal. It’s time to deepen our economic bench and broaden our approaches to planning the region’s economic future.

But we think the federal government’s role is to help our people and our economy.  A promise has been made by the interior secretary. It’s time to show everyone what’s being done to keep it.

More:BLM outlines drilling permit process on federal lands