Feds speed up well abandonment permits, La. lawmaker says

Oil industry leaders and their allies in Congress have loudly complained about what they say is a slowdown in the government’s processing of offshore drilling permits.

But federal regulators have been dragging their feet on other required permits for plugging abandoned wells, according to Rep. Jeff Landry, R-La.

At a House Natural Resources Committee hearing last Friday, Landry scolded Michael Bromwich, the nation’s chief offshore drilling regulator, for a bogdown in the processing of plugging and abandonment permit applications at one government office in New Orleans.

Landry said firms that do the work in his southeastern Louisiana district call “every day” asking about the delays. “The P&A work is at a crawl,” Landry said. “And right now is an opportune time to do (it).”

The federal Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, Regulation and Enforcement has been issuing those permits in about three to five days, on average, agency-wide.

But today, Landry said he is optimistic about the new progress in getting those permits out the door.

“This week, I received calls from a number of operators who said that P&A applications they had been waiting on for months and months (came through),” Landry said. “And they also felt that the communication between their office and the permit person have gotten better in the last week.”

Landry said he was encouraged after speaking about the issue in a call today with Bromwich, the BOEMRE director.

“They are working through and recognizing that there was some issues there,” Landry said. “They are putting a process in that seems to be working.”

Federal permitting stats indicate the number of government approvals for well abandonment work matches historic levels.

According to BOEMRE data, the government approved permits for permanent or temporary abandonment of 3,155 wells between May 2009 and April 2010. During roughly that same timeline a year later — from May 2010 to June 2011 — the government approved permits for permanent or temporary abandonment of 3,528 wells.