Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Senators press Salazar to issue more offshore drilling permits

Nine US senators from coastal producing states, led by Kay Bailey Hutchison (R-Tex.) and Mary L. Landrieu (D-La.), filed a resolution urging US Interior Secretary Ken Salazar to help get offshore oil and gas exploration workers back on the job by streamlining the federal government’s review process for deepwater and shallow water drilling permits.

Mark Begich (D-Alas.), Thad Cochran (R-Miss.), John Cornyn (R-Texas), Lisa Murkowski (R-Alas.), Jeff Sessions (R-Ala.), Richard C. Shelby (R-Ala.), and Roger F. Wicker (R-Miss.) co-sponsored the Feb. 16 resolution, which also asked that Salazar provide both groups of offshore drilling contractors with a sample application to be used as a template.

Salazar imposed an overall offshore drilling moratorium on May 6 following the Apr. 20 Macondo well blew out, causing the Deepwater Horizon semisubmersible rig to explode and kill 11 workers before sinking and releasing a massive amount of crude oil into the Gulf of Mexico. The US Department of the Interior has issued fewer than 35 shallow water permits since that moratorium was lifted on May 28 and no new deepwater permits since that ban was lifted on Oct. 12, the resolution said.

It charged that DOI has not clearly outlined requirements for either shallow water or deepwater drilling contractors to get new permits, resulting in 12 rigs leaving the gulf. "In spite of the offshore drilling moratoriums being lifted, permit delays are causing rigs to sit idle and threatening to send American jobs and tax revenue overseas,” Hutchison said in a statement. “Energy producers must have adequate guidance on new safety and environmental regulations so they can put Americans back to work and continue to strengthen our domestic energy supply to keep fuel costs low.”

"It has been nearly 10 months since the Deepwater Horizon disaster and the Interior Department still has not streamlined the shallow water permitting process," added Landrieu. "This de facto shallow water drilling moratorium is having a painful impact on the Gulf Coast's economy. Just last week, Seahawk Drilling announced that it will file for bankruptcy primarily because of a lack of permits being issued. I don't know how much more it will take before this administration understands the harsh consequences of its intransigence.”

A DOI spokeswoman responded that production and exploration in the gulf are ongoing, and that offshore producers, drilling contractors, and service and supply companies continue to make progress toward developing the capability to contain blowouts in deep water, which the Macondo blowout made clear is critical to safe deepwater exploration.

“Permits to drill are issued solely based on whether a company’s application meets rigorous safety and environmental standards, including demonstrating containment capabilities,” she told OGJ by e-mail. The US Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, Regulation, and Enforcement continues to issue permits, and is working as expeditiously as is safely possible to review drilling applications as they are submitted and ensure they meet safety standards put in place in the wake of the accident and spill, she continued.

A 10th US senator, David Vitter (R-La.), met with BOEMRE Director Michael R. Bromwich after the lawmaker placed holds on the nominations of Scott Dooney to become chief scientist at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and Dan Ashe to lead the US Fish and Wildlife Service.

“I wish my meeting with Director Bromwich was more fruitful,” Vitter said following the Feb. 16 meeting. “Unfortunately, pretty much all he did was repeat the administration’s talking point that there is no de facto drilling moratorium in the gulf.”


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