February 1, 2018 / 11:05 PM / 17 days ago

U.S. Interior agency speeds up process to lease oil, gas on federal land

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The U.S. Department of the Interior this week quietly removed Obama-era reforms to the leasing of federal land for oil and gas drilling in a move to “simplify and streamline” the process, according to a memo sent to field staff on Wednesday.

The instruction memorandum sent to field officials by the acting director of the Interior’s Bureau of Land Management updated the review process for leasing out federal land for oil and gas production to speed up permitting of new lease sales.

The memo effectively erases the reforms implemented by the Obama administration aimed at including input from environmentalists and local tourist industry groups in the process of leasing federal land for drilling, which the oil and gas industry said was time-consuming and redundant.

“This (Instructional Memorandum) aims to simplify and streamline the leasing process for more efficient and effective oil and gas lease management,” the memo said, adding that policy changes would result in “additional revenue from increased lease sales” and reduced costs for environmental reviews and responses to protests.

The new policy would limit the environmental review of a specific lease sale to six months and no longer requires site visits by BLM officials.

“The clear direction is to issue as many leases as possible, as quickly as possible, without considering resource conflicts or the desires of local communities,” said Nada Culver, senior counsel at the Wilderness Society, a public lands advocacy group.

The previous administration decided to reform how oil and gas leases were approved after nearly 80 leases on land near national parks and monuments in Utah had to be canceled by BLM amid a barrage of lawsuits by environmental groups.

Under the Trump administration’s “energy dominance” agenda, the Interior Department has taken steps to undo environmental regulations and open up more federal land and waters to energy exploration.

Reporting by Valerie Volcovici; Editing by Phil Berlowitz

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