Drilling regulator blasts oil industry

The nation's top oil and gas drilling regulator on Tuesday criticized the industry for making repeated claims that the federal government is "slow-walking" on getting companies back to work in the Gulf of Mexico following the BP oil spill last year.

"I continue to be disappointed to see politically motivated, erroneous reports and commentaries, sponsored by various industry associations and groups, criticizing the [government] for allegedly 'slow-walking' permits and plans," Michael Bromwich, the Interior Department's point man on oil and gas drilling, said in a speech at the Center for Strategic and International Studies. "That is a phrase we see repeated over and over again, and it is simply not true."

Bromwich reinforced a plea he has made to Congress numerous times since the April 2010 BP spill: Interior's new Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, Regulation, and Enforcement needs more money to do its job and function at a level that will help the industry.

"The simple fact is, we are reviewing and approving permits as expeditiously as we can given our current resources," Bromwich said. "Another fact that should not be overlooked is our employees have put in more than 1,350 hours of overtime reviewing plans and permits alone in the past six months. In light of that, it is unfair and inappropriate to accuse this bureau of 'slow-walking' anything."

Since Interior Secretary Ken Salazar split up the now-nonexistent Minerals Management Service and created the new bureau shortly after the BP spill, Bromwich has repeatedly said he needs more funds to issue permits in a timely manner.

Bromwich said on Tuesday that since his agency implemented stricter regulations last June, he has issued 74 permits for shallow-water drilling activity in the Gulf of Mexico. And since February, when companies demonstrated they could contain a deep-sea spill, the bureau has approved 129 permits for new wells in the Gulf.

President Obama requested $100 million for BOEMRE in a budget amendment last year. Of that, $47 million was allocated to the bureau in the continuing resolution that Obama signed in April. But it has received no additional funding since. The president's fiscal 2012 budget asked for roughly $350 million for the bureau.

Bromwich's remarks come amid congressional negotiations over the 2012 spending bill, which Congress must pass by Sept. 30. Congress is poised to make historic cuts across federal agencies, but the Interior Department's drilling bureau could be one area that actually receives new funding.

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