WASHINGTON - The Obama administration unveiled procedures Tuesday to speed up drilling on public lands, an area where Republicans and the oil industry have pressed the administration to do more to boost oil production as gasoline prices rise.
The changes will move the Bureau of Land Management, the agency responsible for oil and gas production on federal onshore lands, into the digital age by automating permitting and leasing decisions.
Those negotiations are done on paper, and the back-and-forth has resulted in permits taking on average 298 days to approve.
Bob Abbey, Bureau of Land Management director, said the new process would be in place nationwide by May 2013 and would drop the approval time to 60 days or less, without compromising safety or the environment.
“We have heard from the industry that they believe that BLM’s administrative processes are too slow and result in unnecessary delay and added costs,’’ Abbey said in a conference call with reporters. “And to some degree, their criticism is valid.’’
The announcement comes as Republican presidential contenders and the oil industry are attacking the administration for policies they say have diminished oil and gas production on public property - and contributed to high prices at the pump.
North Dakota, where Interior Secretary Ken Salazar made the announcement on Tuesday, has played prominently in their attacks because the state is in the midst of an oil shale drilling boom, most of which is occurring on private property outside of the control of the federal government.
“The president has made it clear to us that he wants us to continue to produce oil and natural gas here at home,’’ Abbey said. “While this alone is not a solution to high oil and gas prices, it will help reduce reliance on foreign oil and our vulnerability to up and down swings of the international market.’’
Data released by the Energy Information Administration in March show that crude oil production on public lands onshore was at its highest level since 2003.
By contrast, natural gas production on federal property was at its lowest point since 2008, but higher than any year from 2003 to 2007.
The drilling boom underway in North Dakota’s oil shale has helped drive the country to an eight-year high in oil production, a statistic President Obama has used repeatedly on the campaign trail, and used in a new energy ad released Tuesday.
But most of the drilling there is on private land.
N.H. congressman is sued over push polling in 2010
CONCORD, N.H. - The New Hampshire attorney general sued Representative Charlie Bass’s 2010 campaign committee Tuesday, accusing it of violating the state’s push polling law.
Push polling - the practice of asking voters questions intended to influence their decisions - is legal in New Hampshire as long as the candidate behind the poll is identified.
In September 2010, Bass’s campaign hired an outside group to make 400 calls to New Hampshire residents about Democrat Ann McLane Kuster, whom Bass defeated in November.
Bass is running for reelection this year, and his campaign office did not immediately return a call seeking comment.
Bass’s congressional spokeswoman also could not be reached for comment.
According to the lawsuit, the Bass Victory Committee asked the Tarrance Group polling firm to remove Bass’s name from the disclaimer included in the push poll’s script and replace it with the National Republican Congressional Committee, which was paying for half of the poll.
The state argues that was a deliberate attempt to avoid the law’s requirements and is seeking penalties of up to $1,000 per call.