First Deepwater Drilling Permit Issued Since Gulf Spill


"Move stokes cautious optimism Monday among industry executives, gulf coast politicians."

The Obama administration issued the first new deep-water drilling permit for the Gulf of Mexico since the BP oil spill, stoking cautious optimism Monday among some industry executives and Gulf Coast politicians about local oil and gas exploration.

The federal Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, Regulation and Enforcement approved a permit for the Houston-based company Noble Energy to drill a so-called bypass well in 6,500 feet of water about 70 miles southeast of Venice, La.

The new well would track one started in April 2010 but plugged two months later, when the government established a moratorium on deep-water drilling in response to BP's well blowout. Noble's new drilling would go around the plugs to reach the oil.

The administration's announcement comes as Interior Department officials face growing pressure from the courts and Congress to speed up the approval process. Not a single new well has been drilled in deep water since the April 20 BP oil spill, which killed 11 workers and spewed more than 200 million gallons of crude into the gulf.

After the worst offshore oil disaster in American history, the Interior Department revamped lax permitting procedures, and regulators and industry struggled to master them.

In mid-February, U.S. District Judge Martin Feldman ruled in Louisiana that the Interior Department had to act on drilling applications "within a reasonable time" and that delays had grown "increasingly inexcusable." The Republican-led House has promised to grill Interior Department officials about the delays at several hearings over the next few weeks.

On Monday, the director of the ocean energy bureau brushed aside suggestions that his agency was responding to pressure in issuing the permit. Instead, Michael Bromwich emphasized that Noble met the new, more stringent safety requirements.

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