Judge orders BOEMRE to act on Ensco drilling applications

Nick Snow
OGJ Washington Editor

WASHINGTON, DC, Feb. 18--A federal district judge in New Orleans ordered the US Bureau of Offshore Energy Management, Regulation, and Enforcement to decide whether to issue five pending Gulf of Mexico offshore drilling permit applications to Ensco Offshore Co. within 30 days.

The Dallas offshore drilling contractor applied for four of the five permits during the 5-month deepwater drilling moratorium US Interior Secretary Ken Salazar imposed following the Macondo well blowout which destroyed the Deepwater Horizon semisubmersible rig on Apr. 20 and set off a massive crude oil spill. DOI said it was reviewing the ruling.

Judge Martin L.C. Feldman, of Louisiana’s eastern district, wrote in his Feb. 17 order that drilling permits were processed in about 2 weeks time before the Macondo accident.

“In stark contrast, the five permits have been pending from 4 to some 9 months,” Feldman said. “These delays have put off indefinitely drilling in the Gulf of Mexico. Ensco has incurred significantly reduced standby rates on its rigs and has been forced to move some . . . to other locations around the world.”

He rejected the federal government’s argument that Congress, when it passed the Outer Continental Shelf Lands Act in 1953, decided not to impose a time limit and consequently left the matter to the US Department of the Interior agency responsible for managing the OCS.

That view, said Feldman, “would produce autocratic discretion.” He noted DOI argued delays are inevitable in a more regulated environment, and conceded that in the spill’s wake, some delays are understandable.

“But now, nearly a year after the spill occurred, delays, particularly those of the length at issue here, become increasingly unreasonable,” Feldman continued. “The permitting backlog becomes increasingly inexcusable.”

Contact Nick Snow at nicks@pennwell.com.

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