With the post-Deepwater Horizon drilling moratorium lifted, new offshore drilling is slowly returning to the Gulf of Mexico at a pace that is expected to gain speed in the near future.
“We have received a small number of shallow water drilling applications — about 12. We have approved half of them so far this month,” said Michael Bromwich, head of the newly-created Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, Regulation and Enforcement, which oversees the permitting and inspection of such wells.
Since the moratorium was lifted earlier this month, he said his agency has also received “a very small” number of deep-water drilling applications but is less sure of their immediate future.
“They must comply with the new rules and regulations. It will take some time,” Bromwich said.
To speed the process, Bromwich is visiting five universities, including a stop Tuesday at the University of Louisiana, in an effort to hire 30 new inspectors and 30 petroleum engineers.
“We are one of the few federal agencies that will be growing,” Bromwich told about 100 UL engineering students.
“This will be an extremely active time for our agency for some time to come. We are determined to put science first,” Bromwich said.
Dr. Asadollah Hayatdavoudi, who teaches petroleum engineering at the university, said the slow start is to be expected.
“Once you stop, it is hard to restart. The lead time is a killer,” Hayatdavoudi said.
Both the moratorium and the creation of BOEMRE are a direct result of the Deepwater Horizon drilling rig fire and resulting oil spill, which has been called the greatest environmental disaster in the nation’s history.
As a result of that disaster, BOEMRE was created to replaced the troubled Minerals Management Service earlier this year.
Bromwich told the students the unwieldy acronym won’t last long as the agency is quickly evolving.
Under the MMS, one agency was responsible for leasing, permitting, safety and collection of revenue from off-shore drilling.
Strict enforcement of the rules, while increasing safety, could damage revenue collection.