Wyoming oil and natural gas operators, anxious to hurry up the bogged-down federal drill permit process, are forking over tens of thousands of dollars to pay for additional federal staff and overtime.
The Petroleum Association of Wyoming will likely spend least $100,000 on overtime and salaries for federal and contract workers to speed approval of drilling permits, also known as APDs, at the U.S. Bureau of Land Management’s field office in Casper, said Bruce Hinchey, the association’s president.
The permit requests the office is fielding have more than doubled in the last two years, says Casper Field Manager Joe Meyer, and the office is short-staffed.
The slowing permit process is a big problem for oil and gas operators, who are drilling ever larger numbers of wells in Converse County and other places within the BLM district, whose office also manages federal land in Goshen and Platte counties and most of Natrona County.
“I think the point is the APDs need to be issued,” Hinchey said. “They’re trying to do it, they’re doing their best, and this is about the only way I see the companies can get in there and get them out a little quicker so the wells can be drilled to provide revenues to the state and the federal government.”
The Casper BLM office is hiring contract employees through a local temp worker agency to help process the applications, Meyer said. Those workers are paid through their agency by the PAW.
Neither the industry group nor any company is involved in the hiring process of contracted workers, Meyer said.
“No, there is no avenue for influence,” he wrote in an emailed response to Star-Tribune questions.
Hinchey brushed off questions about whether putting federal workers on the industry’s payroll could bias permitting decisions toward the industry.
“We don’t hire the people, the BLM hires their own people to do all of this. We just provided some funds,” he said. “They just said, ‘Give us an amount of money and we’ll take care of it for a while before hopefully we get a different budget.’”
Usually the BLM’s Casper office receives approximately 100 drilling permit requests a year. Over the last two years, that number has jumped to nearly 250 each year.
“The office was not staffed to be able to respond quickly to such a large increase in permits,” he wrote.
Due to turnover from retirements and transfers, five key BLM staffers are no longer with the office, Meyer said, and its been a challenge to hire qualified staff for those positions.
“These are the people who are directly responsible for processing APDs,” he wrote. “We have experienced challenges in hiring qualified staff to fill these positions.”
So the office is pulling help from other BLM offices, including workers who don’t usually deal with the permits. Meyer said those staff members include rangeland management specialists, petroleum engineer technicians, natural resource specialists and a forester.