Countering Administration Silence, Lowenthal-Grijalva Bill Mandates Disclosure on Industry Hoarding of Unused Permits to Drill

Washington, D.C. – In response to the recent announcement that the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) will no longer publish its longstanding annual report on the number of approved but unused oil and gas drilling permits on public land – a key indicator that contradicts industry claims of being unable to get permits in a timely manner – Rep. Alan Lowenthal (D-Calif.) introduced a bill today requiring the Interior Secretary to continue submitting unused permit data to Congress each year and to limit future industry hoarding of permits on public land. Lowenthal is ranking member of the Energy and Mineral Resources Subcommittee.

The bill is cosponsored by Ranking Member Raúl M. Grijalva (D-Ariz.) and Rep. Nanette Barragán (D-Calif.).

The Having Open Access to Relevant Data (HOARD) Act requires the Secretary of the Interior to report to Congress each year on the number and age of unused drilling permits held by the oil and gas industry and the average cost to BLM of approving permits. The bill prevents companies from purchasing new oil and gas leases if they have more than 100 approved but unused drilling permits, and blocks the Department of the Interior from waiving critical environmental protections to “streamline” permit processing if companies are sitting on too many approved permits.

BLM requires a company to file an application for permit to drill (APD) before it can drill a well on a federal oil and gas lease. Companies typically file for considerably more permits than they need, and by the end of fiscal year 2016 the industry held a total of 7,950 approved permits still waiting to be used. Contrary to frequent industry and Republican complaints, the number of pending APDs at the end of fiscal year 2017 stood at only 2,552, the lowest in at least a dozen years.

Secretary Zinke and Republicans in Congress have warped BLM priorities since the beginning of the Trump administration around a false narrative of oil and gas companies not having enough drilling permits. A leaked BLM document from April lists “[a]ddress backlog of Applications for Permit to Drill (APDs)” as a top priority for the agency, making no mention of conservation or stewardship of public lands.

“Big Oil is swamping the system with applications for permits they know they will never use,” Lowenthal said today. “Earlier this month BLM decided to remove permit data from their website because it runs contrary to the narrative of a permit backlog. Public lands belong to all Americans, and the Department of the Interior is entrusted with the responsibility to manage them properly. This bill will increase transparency and encourage the BLM to re-focus their efforts on activities that will actually benefit Americans.”

“BLM needs to be able to spend at least some of its scarce time and resources on conservation,” Grijalva said. “With Trump in the White House and Republicans calling the shots, BLM employees have been told to focus on a non-existent crisis and write more drilling permits with no questions asked. The HOARD Act shines a light on industry information Republicans can’t defend and puts a line in the sand on corporate abuse of public lands.”