Sheila McNulty First drilling permit in Gulf since BP spill

US regulators have issued the first deepwater drilling permit since BP’s accident last April. But does it mean the end of the slowdown to drilling in the Gulf of Mexico? The oil industry still thinks not.

Oil companies note that the permit which was issued was for a project by Noble Energy that was active before the accident and, therefore, did not need to meet the full suite of new regulatory requirements.

And Michael Bromwich, director of the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, Regulation and Enforcement, said that while this approval provided a template of sorts, each permit would still undergo a “careful, rigorous, well-by-well analysis.”

To speed up the process substantially, he said, the bureau would need more funding to hire extra personnel. He noted the Obama administration had requested a budget for 40 additional personnel in the permits unit:

“We need as many of those as we can get as soon as we can possibly get them.”

But everything moves slowly in Washington. The industry is not yet ready to exhale in the belief that the worst is over.

As Jack Gerard, president and chief executive of the American Petroleum Institute, the industry’s national trade group, said: “While every permit is welcome news, tightening the screws on domestic oil and natural gas production during a time of increased demand and global uncertainty is a formula for disaster. This slow moving process continues to stifle domestic production and puts thousands of jobs at risk in the Gulf and around the country.”

Bobby Jindal, Louisiana’s governor, had this to say: “This is a good first step but we must quickly get to a level of issuing permits that represents a critical mass, so thousands of oil and gas industry workers can get back to work fueling America again.’’

Nobody in the industry sees this one permit as a reason to let up pressure on the administration.