Interior says drilling permit review times have decreased


The Interior Department has worked with industry to help improve the efficiency of the drilling permit application process, resulting in a reduction of permit review times.

James Watson, the director of the Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement (BSEE), addressed permitting and other topics in March before an Appropriations Committee subcommittee hearing on the agency’s 2013 budget request. BSEE is requesting $222 million for fiscal 2013, an increase of about $25 million over fiscal 2012.

Watson said workshops have been held to improve the quality and thoroughness of permit applications. BSEE also established priorities for reviewing permit applications, he said, assigning the highest priority to permits for ongoing operations or emergency operations. Also, BSEE is now balancing the workloads of its engineers by moving some permit applications to different districts. BSEE has also allowed authorized users of the agency’s online permit application system to track the status of their applications. This was done in response to many operators requesting “greater transparency in our permitting system,” Watson said in his prepared testimony.

“As a result of these steps and the industry’s increasing familiarity with the process, permit review times have decreased significantly in the past year.”

He didn’t say how much the review times have decreased. However, he said those who believe that the pace of permitting should automatically be the same as before the Deepwater Horizon accident “are ignoring the lessons of that disaster.”

With a new focus on capping and containment capabilities in the event of a well-control situation, “the permitting environment is completely different” than it was before the Macondo blowout, Watson testified. “Comparing the pace of permitting pre- and post-Deepwater Horizon does not consider the current reality that applications must now meet a suite of new requirements that receive extremely close scrutiny by the bureau’s engineers.

“I will not measure success of this agency by the rate at which we issue permits,” he said. “Permitting is an essential part of our safety mission. We issue permits only when companies have demonstrated that they can conduct their proposed operations safely and responsibly. We will not rush permits out the door.

“Rigs that had left the Gulf of Mexico are returning,” he said, “new rigs are being contracted and we are starting to see a small inventory of unused drilling permits develop.” — Jerry Greenberg 


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