The Wyoming Oil and Gas Conservation Commission is proposing rule changes that would "level the playing field" for companies hoping to drill for oil and gas in the Cowboy State.

That's according to a statement released by the commission Tuesday morning.

Wyoming is a "first to file" state, meaning the first company to apply for and receive a permit to drill has exclusive rights to drill. While that first to file status will remain in effect, companies will now only have two years to drill.

Currently, those permits can stay in place indefinitely.

After two years, other companies with nearby interests would be able to file an application for a permit to drill the well.

The proposed rule change is due largely to companies applying for permits they may never intend to utilize. Despite there being thousands of drilling permits approved in Wyoming, only 32 drilling rigs are currently operating in Wyoming as of Tuesday, according to the Baker Hughes rig count.

Wyoming Oil and Gas Conservation Commission Supervisor Mark Watson said he hopes the proposal will help ease the workload on the commission. Watson said he's had to bring people out of retirement to keep pace with the permitting process.

The commission voted Tuesday to move forward with the rule. At some point in the future, there will be a public meeting before a 45-day public comment period.

Late Tuesday afternoon, Governor Mark Gordon issued a prepared statement in favor of the proposal.

“The oil and gas industry is essential to Wyoming, and over the years it has adapted to evolving challenges,” Gordon said. “As that happens our regulatory framework must also evolve to protect the interests of our state, our citizens, and the producers' ability to efficiently develop these resources.”

Tuesday's vote was the first official step in a 33-step process, according to the commission.

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