No date yet for deepwater Gulf permits
A drilling ban put in place after the Gulf oil spill was lifted in October, but no new deepwater drilling permits have been approved yet.
Fri, Feb 25, 2011 at 04:58 PM
DRILLING: U.S. Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar told reporters the situation in Libya was "not changing at all what we are doing here" and the government felt no pressure to hurry its permitting process. (Photo: Manuel Balce Ceneta/AP)
HOUSTON - U.S. officials on Friday could not offer a firm date when deepwater permits to drill for oil in the Gulf of Mexico will be issued, as crude posted its highest weekly close in more than two years.
"We are carefully and rigorously reviewing drilling plans," Michael Bromwich, director of the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, the offshore drilling regulator, said at a news conference. "I am quite confident we will again get to the point where we can begin issuing deepwater permits."
A drilling ban put in place after BP Plc's disastrous Macondo well blowout last year in the Gulf was lifted in October, but no new deepwater drilling permits have been approved yet.
U.S. crude oil futures posted their highest weekly settlement in almost 2-1/2 years on Friday on supply disruptions due to the revolt in Libya.
U.S. Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar told reporters the situation in Libya was "not changing at all what we are doing here" and the government felt no pressure to hurry its permitting process.
Bromwich and Salazar were in Houston to peruse a pair of rapid-response systems designed to stop or contain a future Gulf of Mexico oil spill, a requirement for companies under new U.S. drilling regulations.
The systems developed by the Marine Well Containment Company, a $1 billion nonprofit partnership of oil majors that operate in the Gulf led by Exxon Mobil Corp, and Helix Solutions Energy Group Inc, an independent producer and well-intervention company.
Post-Macondo, deepwater oil and gas producers must show they can deploy such systems as required to get drilling permits approved by U.S. regulators to get permits approved.
The MWCC has similar equipment and surface vessels BP used last year, while the Helix system includes two of its rigs used to contain Macondo oil.
However, Bromwich said designating either the MWCC or Helix systems won't guarantee permit approval. Regulators will evaluate well depth, expected pressures, and other characteristics as well as proposed spill response plans.
"You can't just say 'This is a great system and we're going to bless every permit application that designates them,'" he said.
(Writing by Anna Driver and Kristen Hays in Houston; Editing by Walter Bagley and David Gregorio)
Copyright 2011 Reuters Environmental Online Report