BOGOTA, Sept 25 (Reuters) - Colombia will expedite the environmental licensing process for oil, mining, energy and infrastructure projects, but maintain the same rigorous standards, the environment minister said on Thursday.
The government will issue a decree that requires authorities to respond to environmental licensing requests within 70 days, Environment Minister Gabriel Vallejo told reporters.
There is currently a 90-day limit, but some companies have waited up to 19 months for an answer to their requests, he said.
The move comes amid falling crude oil output and criticism from energy and construction companies that long waits for licenses curb exploration and production.
"The objective is not to say yes to everyone, but to say yes or no within a certain time, so there's clarity, communication and agility," Vallejo said.
The new decree will also outline whether projects should be approved by national or regional authorities, depending on their size and impact, after complaints by oil and mining companies that current rules often require them to apply for permission from multiple authorities.
The time limit for modification requests to granted licenses will remain unchanged, at 60 days.
The National Authority for Environmental Licensing will be restructured to ensure it complies with the new time limits, the minister said.
Companies wishing to use fracking, or hydraulic fracturing, technology will only be granted licenses if projects meet high environmental standards, Vallejo added.
The government will also back another new effort that will require mining companies to get environmental licenses for exploration, not just for extractive operations.
The speedy granting of licenses will depend on the quality of the environmental impact studies the companies conduct. The reports are often deficient, Vallejo said.
"We continue to watch over the environment rigorously in terms of the standards under which we execute environmental licensing." (Reporting by Luis Jaime Acosta; Writing by Julia Symmes Cobb; Editing by Helen Murphy and Marguerita Choy)