First post-spill deep-water drilling permit approved

The Obama administration approved on Monday the first deep-water drilling permit in the Gulf of Mexico since it banned the practice in light of last year's massive BP oil spill.

The permit is going to Noble Energy, an independent oil and gas company that operates in the Gulf's deep waters and around the world. Drilling on the well is expected to start in April, one year after BP's Macondo well exploded. The government estimates that more than 200 million gallons of oil spilled into the Gulf in the three months that the well went uncapped.

"This permit was issued for one simple reason: The operator successfully demonstrated that it can drill its deep-water well safely and that it is capable of containing a subsea blowout if it were to occur," said Michael Bromwich, director of the Interior Department Bureau of Ocean Energy, Management, Regulation, and Enforcement.

Bromwich dismissed the notion that Monday's permit issuance was politically motivated in light of two hearings this week on Interior's budget at which Secretary Ken Salazar will testify.

"There is absolutely no politics associated with this. Anybody's upcoming testimony or anything else had nothing to do with approval or timing," Bromwich said. "This application has been working its way through our system for the last several weeks."

He said he expects to issue more deep-water permits in the coming weeks but did not offer any details as to when the next one will be issued. He also reiterated his concern that a lack of money and permitting personnel will hamper his agency's ability to move forward promptly and effectively.

"We are taking these applications to drill as they come," Bromwich said on a conference call on Monday. Seven permits are pending for deep-water drilling in the Gulf.

In the approval for Noble, Bromwich pointed to the company's contract with the Helix Well Containment Group on a containment system to ensure that oil could be contained in deep water should a spill occur. He cautioned that "no one should take this as a blanket endorsement" for Helix's system or any other system, such as systems set up by the ExxonMobil-led Marine Well Containment Company.

Bromwich said he hopes Monday's approval will send a positive signal to the industry. Corporations and lawmakers from oil-producing regions have complained that the administration is slow-walking the permitting process.

"Industry has been waiting for a signal that deep-water drilling would be allowed to resume, and I think many will take this as that signal," Bromwich said. He added that he hopes the news will "encourage other operators who may have been holding back to file additional permits."

The oil industry and its proponents in Congress are cautiously applauding the news.

"While one deep-water permit is a start, it is by no means reason to celebrate," said Sen. David Vitter, R-La. "I'm still demanding that the Obama administration allow at least 15 deep-water drilling permits before I release my hold on an Interior Department nominee."

Vitter is holding up the nomination of Dan Ashe as head of Interior's Fish and Wildlife Service. His fellow Louisiana senator, Democrat Mary Landrieu, supports that hold. Landrieu said Monday evening that she is continuing to support Vitter's hold, despite the permit being issued.

In related news, President Obama announced on Monday the final member of the Gulf Coast Ecosystem Restoration Task Force, which is made up of five representatives of each of the five Gulf states. It was established by an executive order that Obama issued on October 5. Monday's appointment was of N. Gunter Guy Jr., a state representative from Alabama.

Stay up-to-date with federal news alerts and analysis — Sign up for GovExec's email newsletters.
Close [ x ] More from GovExec

Thank you for subscribing to newsletters from
We think these reports might interest you:

  • Going Agile:Revolutionizing Federal Digital Services Delivery

    Here’s one indication that times have changed: Harriet Tubman is going to be the next face of the twenty dollar bill. Another sign of change? The way in which the federal government arrived at that decision.

  • Cyber Risk Report: Cybercrime Trends from 2016

    In our first half 2016 cyber trends report, SurfWatch Labs threat intelligence analysts noted one key theme – the interconnected nature of cybercrime – and the second half of the year saw organizations continuing to struggle with that reality. The number of potential cyber threats, the pool of already compromised information, and the ease of finding increasingly sophisticated cybercriminal tools continued to snowball throughout the year.

  • Featured Content from RSA Conference: Dissed by NIST

    Learn more about the latest draft of the U.S. National Institute of Standards and Technology guidance document on authentication and lifecycle management.

  • GBC Issue Brief: The Future of 9-1-1

    A Look Into the Next Generation of Emergency Services

  • GBC Survey Report: Securing the Perimeters

    A candid survey on cybersecurity in state and local governments

  • The New IP: Moving Government Agencies Toward the Network of The Future

    Federal IT managers are looking to modernize legacy network infrastructures that are taxed by growing demands from mobile devices, video, vast amounts of data, and more. This issue brief discusses the federal government network landscape, as well as market, financial force drivers for network modernization.

  • eBook: State & Local Cybersecurity

    CenturyLink is committed to helping state and local governments meet their cybersecurity challenges. Towards that end, CenturyLink commissioned a study from the Government Business Council that looked at the perceptions, attitudes and experiences of state and local leaders around the cybersecurity issue. The results were surprising in a number of ways. Learn more about their findings and the ways in which state and local governments can combat cybersecurity threats with this eBook.


When you download a report, your information may be shared with the underwriters of that document.