Republicans study offshore drilling, one year after lifting of deep-water ban

One year ago today, the Obama administration lifted the ban on most deep-water drilling that was temporarily imposed after the Gulf oil spill.

The House Natural Resources Committee is marking the occasion with a hearing focused on examining the lingering effects of that five-month moratorium.

Panel Chairman Doc Hastings, R-Wash., said the administration is dragging its feet in issuing permits to drill offshore, and those approvals haven’t yet met a pre-spill pace.

“The Obama administration’s inability or refusal to issue permits in a timely and efficient manner (even) after the official moratorium was lifted resulted in lost jobs and significant economic pain,” Hastings said, at the outset of the hearing. “Some permits indeed are being issued (but) there are facts and data that demonstrate recovery is moving at a pace that continues to hamper job creation and the economy.”

The government has issued permits for 81 new shallow water wells since new post-spill safety and environmental requirements were imposed in June 2010. Federal officials also have approved drilling of 41 new deep-water wells since February, when the industry first proved it had the equipment and know-how to contain runaway underwater wells — a post-spill requirement for some deep-water exploration.

The committee’s leading Democrat said Hastings’ concern is misplaced. Instead of holding a hearing focusing on a short-term deep-water drilling ban, Rep. Ed Markey, D-Mass., said the panel should be studying the long-term environmental effects of the Deepwater Horizon disaster and reports of oil sheens near BP’s failed Macondo well.

“Holding a hearing on the impact of a safety check following an unimaginable oil spill is a little like holding a hearing on wearing a cast after shattering your leg, without looking at the accident that required the cast,” Markey said.

Markey added that the Natural Resources Committee also was overlooking the economic damage to tourism throughout the Gulf Coast caused by the spill itself.

The witnesses testifying at today’s hearing read like a Who’s Who of the Gulf Coast drilling industry, including the heads of offshore service contractors and an executive with Houston-based ATP Oil & Gas.

Hastings’ unveiled this chart and other data he said indicates permitting is below historic, pre-spill levels:

Doc Hastings’ graphic on Permitting Activity