The U.S. Senate unanimously approved a bill Wednesday that permanently extends a Bureau of Land Management (BLM) pilot project to streamline the drilling permit process by increasing application fees and funding.
The pilot program was established in 2005 with the passage of the 2005 Energy Policy Act. The program was scheduled to expire in 2015.
The bill establishes a $9,500 drilling permit application processing fee, a $3,000 bump from current levels, that takes effect in 2016 and lasts for 10 years.
At least 75 percent of the funds collected by the BLM will be distributed to the state offices where the funds were collected.
The BLM would be allowed to distribute the remaining 25 percent as it chooses.
The bill is designed to make sure states that receive more applications receive more funding and resources to handle those applications.
The program would help reduce the backlog of drilling permit applications by streamlining operations at the BLM offices in Farmington and Carlsbad, New Mexico and Rawlins, Buffalo, Wyoming and other Rocky Mountain states, the Oil and Gas Journal said.
The bill would also establish the Permit Processing Improvement Fund.
The fund would provide $18 million per year to the Interior Department to better support BLM operations across the country and invest in additional staffing and resources.
The American Petroleum Institute said the bill is an “important step” towards addressing permitting delays.
According to Denver-based Western Energy Alliance, the energy sector returns $54.12 to BLM for every taxpayer dollar the agency spends.
The bill is on its way to the House of Representatives for a vote.