The head of the federal agency overseeing offshore drilling indicated Tuesday that the moratorium on deepwater drilling in the Gulf of Mexico (GOM) could be lifted in advance of its Nov. 30 deadline, an agency spokesman said.

Michael R. Bromwich, the newly appointed director of the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, Regulation and Enforcement (BOEMRE), successor to the old Minerals Management Service, told a group of reporters that his preference would be to lift the moratorium as soon as he "felt comfortable" that sufficient safety precautions were in place, said BOEMRE spokesman Nicholas Pardi.

"I think it's everybody's hope that we feel comfortable enough that the moratorium can be lifted significantly in advance of Nov. 30," Bromwich said, according to the Houston Chronicle. The agency would require a "level of comfort" in three areas -- drilling and workplace safety, spill containment and disaster response technology.

Bromwich's briefing came in advance of the start of an eight-city fact-finding tour, which got under way in New Orleans on Wednesday. He said he will use the evidence collected during the hearings to recommend potential changes to the "scope or duration" of the suspension of deepwater drilling in the GOM.

The Obama administration halted drilling in the deepwater GOM in late May in response to the explosion aboard the BP plc-leased Deepwater Horizon rig, which sank off the southern coast of Louisiana (see Daily GPI, May 28).

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