BLM’s boom towns 

Applications for oil and gas drilling on federal lands are expected to jump 32 percent in 2006, Bureau of Land Management (BLM) officials told Congress Oct. 25. And to accommodate that demand, Miles City and six other western BLM offices will receive a staff influx to speed up the processing of applications.

Kathleen Clarke, director of the BLM, says the agency expects to receive 9,200 permit applications in 2006, and another 10,000 in 2007. Attributing the up-tick to increased energy demand and rising prices, Clarke says the agency has already processed a record number of applications in 2005.

Gary Albright, a BLM spokesman in Billings, says the Miles City office will receive 11 new workers. Towns in Wyoming, New Mexico, Colorado and Utah will account for the rest of the transfusion; the seven locations have been targeted because they process 70 percent of all permit applications the BLM receives.

The new Energy Policy Act signed by President Bush in August streamlined the permitting process and ordered the beefing up of the seven offices in an effort to spur increased domestic energy production.

Peter Aengst, the Wilderness Society’s energy campaign coordinator in Bozeman, says it’s a misconception that increased application processing will somehow resolve our energy woes.

“The oil and gas industry already has a large backlog of existing leases that they aren’t even drilling on,” he says. “The reality is we could throw millions more dollars and thousands more staff [at the task], and we’d have hardly any change in the volume of gas being produced, because of the lack of available drilling rigs and other infrastructure.”

Mark Fix, chairman of the Northern Plains Resource Council’s coalbed methane task force, expressed hope that monitoring will increase along with permitting. Albright says new staff will work on both permitting and other tasks like regulation.

“These things are market-driven…and as long as America keeps consuming petroleum at the rate we’re consuming it, there’s going to be tremendous demand for industry to go find more,” Albright says.

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