The Interior Department’s Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, Regulation and Enforcement (BOEM) Friday announced “significant improvements” to speed up the oil and gas permit application process, at the same time issuing an update on permits approved since the moratorium on deepwater drilling was lifted in the Gulf of Mexico.

BOEM’s announcement came the same day the watchdog Government Accountability Office (GAO) issued a report questioning the Interior’s ability to reorganize its operations relating to oil and gas and at the same time adequately oversee those operations (see related story).

The improvements include the publication of a permit application checklist to assist offshore oil and gas operators in submitting complete applications to drill; the implementation of completeness checks by BOEM personnel before significant staff time is spent reviewing the application; and the development of clear permit review priorities that will expedite agency reviews.

“We will continue to search for additional ways to improve our processes without in any way modifying or relaxing the more stringent safety and environmental rules we have implemented over the past year,” said BOEM Director Michael R. Bromwich. “We are constantly looking for ways to create a smarter, more efficient, and more transparent permit review process.”

National Ocean Industries Association President Randall Luthi said the announcement was “very welcome news because much of the permitting process has been confusing and frustrating to our members, particularly in the last year.”

Improvements include:

BOEM said it has approved 43 deepwater permits for 15 unique wells that require subsea containment since the moratorium was lifted in March, nearly a year after the explosion and fire destroyed the Deepwater Horizon platform in the Gulf of Mexico causing a massive and prolonged oil spill. (see Daily GPI, March 22).

There are currently 24 permits pending and 18 permits have been returned to the operator with requests for additional information, particularly information regarding containment. The changes announced today should over time substantially reduce the number of permits that need to be returned to operators, the agency said.

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