Since the lifting of a moratorium on deepwater drilling in the Gulf of Mexico (GOM) almost two months ago, the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, Regulation and Enforcement (BOEM) has been working diligently to review applications for permits to drill in the deepwater Gulf of Mexico, according to BOEM Director Michael Bromwich.
"We are still facing a severe shortage of resources but have temporarily reassigned personnel from other regions and reallocated within the Gulf of Mexico region to assist in the review of permits in the Gulf of Mexico," Bromwich said at an Institute for Energy Law conference in New Orleans Wednesday. "My staff is working hard to process permit applications. We are not slow-walking them in any way or for any reason. Despite frequent claims, comments and slogans to the contrary by industry representatives and their allies, there is no de facto moratorium.
"Our progress in processing permits has been slower than industry would like, but we have been doing the best that we can with the resources we have. Comments that suggest anything else are neither factually accurate nor helpful in any way. In fact, they are an insult to the hardworking men and women in our agency. I want to be clear: we will not cut corners in the permit review process and permits will be approved only when we are satisfied that all applicable regulatory requirements are met. Our priority remains, as it must, to ensure that oil and gas drilling is done in a safe and environmentally responsible manner."
The Obama administration's moratorium on deepwater drilling in the GOM was lifted Oct. 12, but only for those operators that can show that they have complied with tougher new safety and drilling regulations (see Daily GPI, Oct. 13).
According to some critics, the moratorium was replaced by a "permitorium," which effectively blocks most permits from being issued. Before an operator can resume deepwater drilling, it must demonstrate that it has sufficient containment resources that are available in the event of a deepwater blowout; the CEO of each operator seeking to perform deepwater drilling must certify to BOEM that it has complied with all regulations, including the new drilling safety rules; and BOEM plans to conduct inspections of each deepwater drilling operation for compliance with regulations, including but not limited to the testing of blowout preventers.
The moratorium was a direct result of the blowout of BP plc's Macondo well and the sinking of the Deepwater Horizon rig.
"Deepwater Horizon has been a call to action for all of us," Bromwich said. "The truth -- acknowledged by some in the industry but denied by others -- is that we had become complacent over time. One of the consequences of that complacency was that our safety regulations and technology failed to keep pace with the industry's expansion to open new frontiers, including deepwater, to oil and gas exploration and development. Even before the many investigations began, the need for change was immediately apparent."
Changes included reorganization of the Minerals Management Service (see Daily GPI, May 21).
At a face-to-face meeting with the oil and natural gas industry last month, Bromwich and other Interior Department officials pledged to work as expeditiously as is safely possible to review permits for new drilling in the GOM, but oil and gas representatives were anything but encouraged (see Daily GPI, Nov. 23).
A Deloitte LLP executive has said the industry is leery about returning to the GOM (see Daily GPI, Nov. 22).
National Commission on the BP Oil Spill and Offshore Drilling co-chair William K. Reilly on Wednesday advised industry CEOs to create an autonomous, industry-managed safety institute and said government regulators haven't maintained adequate oversight of the industry (see related story).
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