Salazar in Houston to check out spill containment systems

Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar is in Houston today to visit the two groups that have developed systems to contain and cap undersea well blowouts like last year’s Macondo accident.

Salazar is visiting first with Houston’s own Helix Energy Solutions, which has a system that is says will be able to arrive at a well site and start containing a blowout within a week.

Later he’ll meet with the The Marine Well Containment Co., the consortium formed by Exxon Mobil, Chevron, Shell, ConocoPhillips and later joined by BP. The MWCC system can be on the scene of a blowout in two to three weeks.

Such spill systems appear to be the final piece of the puzzle needed before federal officials begin issuing new deep-water drilling permits. The requirement came in reaction to the length of the Macondo spill (85 days) and the fact that many companies drilling in the Gulf had cookie-cutter spill response plans that included outdated information and data related to operations in other bodies of water.

The director of the federal ocean energy management bureau, Michael Bromwich, told us earlier this month he expected new deep-water permits in a matter of weeks. And this week Shell signed up a Noble deep-water rig for work in the Gulf. So the day of new permit approvals could be imminent.

Salazar will do a brief press conference this afternoon on his way out of town, so check back with us later to hear what he has to say.

We’re curious to see if he busts out his cowboy hat (as a Coloradan he owns a couple) in honor of Go Texan Day. Early reports are he’s not wearing a hat, but his boots are on.