Deep-water permitting process ‘not a black hole’ says Chevron

While discussing Chevron’s recently granted permit to resume drilling the deep-water Mocassin project on Thursday, I asked Gary Luquette, president of Chevron’s North American exploration and production business, about how the permitting process has actually worked these past few months.

Some in the industry have charged that the Bureau of Offshore Energy Management, Regulation and Enforcement staff sat on permit applications and didn’t communicate with companies about their status. It was  like a black hole, some said.

BOEMRE director Michael Bromwich told the Chronicle during interviews last month his agency has never just sat on permits. In some cases industry has been slow or unwilling to file for permits, he said, though he acknowledged that at times BOEMRE field-personnel may have been reluctant to make final decisions for fear of the legal consequences of not making the right call.  

Luquette says in his experience the communication with regulators has been a constant back-and-forth as both sides try to work their way through the new rules for drilling.

The interim drilling rules implemented last year in the wake of Deepwater Horizon disaster were drafted in a hurry, Luquette notes, not through the usual rule-making process that moves much more slowly and involves many rounds of feedback.

“They were issued and the industry did not know what exactly they meant,” Luquette said.

Apparently, regulators didn’t always know what they meant, either.

Chevron would submit information it believed addressed one of the new issues, but at times BOEMRE staff wasn’t sure if the answer worked with the new framework.

“So you have to show them another possible answer and they would have to say ‘yea’ or nay’ before you could move on to the next question,” Luquette said. “It was not a ‘black hole’ where you were not hearing anything. They were genuinely trying to get answers to our questions.”

But there’s no doubt about it — it’s been a slow process. The first attempt to get the Moccasin well restarted was filed in October, right after the deep-water ban was formally lifted.

“We didn’t finally get to certainty about the permit being granted until about 10 days ago,” Luquete said.