OGJ Washington Editor
WASHINGTON, DC, Sept. 14 -- Processing of applications is taking longer than previously, but no federal moratorium exists on shallow-water drilling, US Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, Regulation, and Enforcement (BOE) Director Michael R. Bromwich told a group of shallow water drillers before BOE’s final public forum on offshore drilling in Lafayette, La.
"I understand the frustration that people feel because we are not able to review and approve applications as expeditiously as we have in the past,” Bromwich said during the Sept. 13 meeting, which Louisiana Lt. Gov. Scott Angelle also attended. “But the central fact is that it has taken time to submit and verify the additional required information. We will not approve applications until and unless they fully comply with the new requirements. That will not make everyone happy, but it is the right way to proceed."
Drillers said they were grateful that Bromwich agreed to hear their complaints but came away from the meeting dissatisfied. "With 15 of the total of 46 available shallow-water rigs now idle without permits, and only 5 permits for new wells issued since April, we are clearly at an impasse with the regulators,” said James W. Noe, executive director of the Shallow Water Energy Coalition.
He said companies seeking to explore offshore in shallow water have been meeting with BOE officials since the agency issued two notices to lessees in June outlining new requirements for technical and environmental information that must be met before drilling permits will be issued.
More than 60,000 wells have been drilled safely in the shallow Gulf of Mexico in the last 60 years, mostly gas wells into mature and predictable reservoirs, according to Noe, who also is vice-president and general compliance officer at Hercules Offshore Inc., a Houston offshore drilling contractor.
Shallow-water rigs use simple, proven blowout preventers that are on the vessel’s deck, he pointed out. “We urged Director Bromwich to respect the distinct differences between shallow-water operations and deepwater operations, and requested that the agency establish a tiered review process for new wells that is properly calibrated to the actual risk the well presents,” he said.
Bromwich said the time spent processing either exploration or development plans or the drilling permit applications themselves (which can only be approved following an approval of the plan for the lease as a whole) is necessary to ensure that all information required by the new standards has been submitted and properly evaluated. He said he and other BOE officials would continue to assist shallow water drillers but emphasized that safety will not be compromised.
“While we share Director Bromwich's commitment to safety, BOE must recognize that it cannot continue to shove a square peg into a round hole by treating all offshore drilling operations the same, disregarding history and geological facts,” Noe said following the meeting.
Bromwich said of the 13 shallow water drilling permit applications BOE has received since the June 28 notices to lessees, five have been approved and eight are pending.
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Bromwich hears shallow-water drillers' complaints in Louisiana