Vitter: Drilling regulator sticks to ‘talking points’

Sen. David Vitter said today he was unsatisfied after a meeting with the nation’s top offshore drilling regulator, Michael Bromwich, to discuss delays in the government’s approval of deep-water exploration projects.

Vitter, R-La., said Bromwich “said some things that would make most Louisianians’ heads spin.”

“I wish my meeting with Director Bromwich was more fruitful,” Vitter said. “Unfortunately, pretty much all he did was repeat the administration’s talking point that there is no de facto drilling moratorium in the Gulf.”

Although the Obama administration lifted its ban on deep-water drilling last October, federal regulators at the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, Regulation and Enforcement haven’t yet approved any new wells that would have been blocked by the moratorium. Six proposals to drill in deep water are pending review at the bureau Bromwich heads.

The meeting between Vitter and Bromwich came a  day after the senator announced he would block confirmation of an Obama administration nominee to head the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service until at least 15 new deep-water wells get the green light.

Separately today, nine senators from Gulf Coast states and Alaska — including Texas Republicans Kay Bailey Hutchison and John Cornyn — introduced a resolution urging Interior Secretary Ken Salazar to streamline the review process for shallow- and deep-water drilling applications.

The resolution, which would be nonbinding even if it were passed by the Senate,  concludes  “the nation’s economy and security depend upon full and immediate restoration of shallow and deep-water drilling operations in the Gulf of Mexico.” The senators also demand the government provide a sample, satisfactory drilling application to provide guidance to oil and gas companies who are working to comply with new safety and environmental mandates imposed since the Deepwater Horizon disaster.

“Permit delays are causing rigs to sit idle and threatening to send American jobs and tax revenue overseas,” said Hutchison in a statement. “Energy producers must have adequate guidance on new safety and environmental regulations so they can put American back to work and continue to strengthen our domestic energy supply to keep fuel costs low.”

Bromwich has repeatedly stressed he is trying to provide guidance to oil and gas companies — but that a major holdup for deep-water drilling is the industry’s compliance with a mandate to be ready to contain a blowout like the one at BP’s Macondo well.

Bromwich also has said he will not micro-manage the permitting process from Washington, D.C., or let it  be politicized. Permit applications are reviewed by staff in the ocean energy bureau’s Gulf of Mexico region office.

“Oil and gas are an important part of our energy economy, and we look forward to continuing to work with both sides of the aisle as we implement new safety and oversight standards,” said bureau spokeswoman Melissa Schwartz. “Permits have been approved throughout this reform process, and we will continue to coordinate closely with the oil and gas industry to ensure that safe and responsible development continues.”

Since new requirements were implemented last June, the government has approved 31 permits to drill new wells in shallow water; another eight applications are pending.

The government is currently reviewing three applications for new deep-water exploration that would have been blocked by last year’s moratorium. Those projects would have to comply with the containment requirement.