The U.S. Forest Service, in coordination with the Bureau of Land Management (BLM), has completed its expedited review of the Continental Resources’ permit to drill in the Dakota Prairie Grasslands in North Dakota. This project was selected for expedited review pursuant to a Presidential Memorandum directing agencies to expedite environmental reviews and permit decisions for high priority infrastructure projects that will create a significant number of jobs.
The application was determined complete as defined by Onshore Oil and Gas Order No. 1 and ready for review on October 11, 2011. The applicant utilized private environmental consultants to collect certain information required to complete the review and environmental analysis. Although applicants may rely on the Forest Service to collect information, such as botany or cultural resource reports and engineering surveys and designs, the Forest Service will accept information provided by contractors subject to review and confirmation by the Forest Service.
After a site-specific review of the proposed project by resource specialists of the Dakota Prairie Grasslands Office, it was determined that the project met the criteria for a Categorical Exclusion (CE) under Section 390 of the Energy Policy Act of 2005. Once the site-specific review was completed, the Forest Service approved the Surface Use Plan of Operations with attached Conditions of Approval. The BLM then incorporated the Forest Service approval into the BLM approval of the Drilling Plan and the application was formally approved on December 16, 2011.
The use of environmental consultants by the applicant and coordinated efforts by the Forest Service and BLM resulted in a time savings in excess of 20% from the national average amount of time required to review similar applications. Subject to the Conditions of Approval, the project’s operator may begin construction immediately.
Subject to applicable law, accepting surveys, designs and reports prepared by private environmental contractors can help to alleviate agency resource constraints.
Providing advance guidance and training to applicants and their consultants improves the quality of submitted applications and the accompanying surveys, reports and designs. Dakota Prairie Grasslands utilizes a website to provide guidance on the application process, www.apdtest.com, and conducts in-person training for preparation of the technical components of the application.
Direct and regular communication among the Forest Service, the Bureau of Land Management and the applicant helped to address resource conflicts early in the applicant’s submission process, which reduced the approval timeframe.
The Dakota Prairie Grasslands area in North Dakota is experiencing a dramatic increase in gas and oil drilling applications. There are currently over 80 Applications for Permits to Drill pending filed with the Forest Service’s McKenzie District Office. The Forest Service will use lessons learned from this expedited permitting project to improve its system for reviewing other applications.