First deep-water oil drilling permit since Gulf oil spill plays it safe
The Obama administration lifted its post-Gulf oil spill moratorium on oil drilling in deep water Oct. 12, but it didn't issue its first new permit until Monday. Some experts think rising oil prices forced the administration's hand.
The Obama administration approved the first permit for deep-water drilling in nine months, a move that some interpret as a reaction to the instability in North Africa and the greater Middle East and its combined effect on foreign oil prices.Skip to next paragraph
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The permit is the first issued since the April 20 explosion of the Deepwater Horizon oil rig that killed 11 people and released 4.9 million barrels (205 million gallons) of oil into the Gulf of Mexico.
In May the Obama administration issued a moratorium on all new permits to drill in waters greater than 500 feet, a controversial measure that lasted until Oct. 12, when the administration announced a new set of drilling standards it said was designed to safeguard against future blowouts and, should one occur, ensure companies had the capability to launch a successful recovery effort.
The new permit announced Monday has been seen as an attempt by the Obama administration to play it safe. The permit is not for a new well but for one which has already been started. Going forward, the test will be if more permits follow and include any new wells, experts say.
Other permits could be “approved in coming weeks and months,” said Michael Bromwich, director of the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, Regulation and Enforcement (BOEMRE). But critics note that he has made similar promises before: At the time the moratorium was lifted, Mr. Bromwich said the first new permits would be issued by the end of the year.
Who got the permit and why
Noble Energy, Inc. received the permit Monday. The company, located in Houston, sought the permit to continue drilling a well it abandoned in June following the moratorium. The well project is located about 70 miles southeast of Venice, La., near the Deepwater Horizon disaster site, and is below 6,500 feet of water.
Drilling will resume this month and is expected to reach a total depth of 19,000 feet by May, the company said. By comparison, the Macondo well drilled by the Deepwater Horizon had a water depth of 5,000 feet at the time of the explosion.
The fact that the well is an existing well is significant. The geology of the well makes risk assessment easier to mitigate.
Moreover, BOEMRE highlighted the robustness of the capping stack on the well. It is meant to cap a well up to 10,000 pounds per square inch of pressure in as many as 5,600 feet of water in case of a blowout. But BOEMRE said augmented technology will make the capping stack operable in waters much greater than that, and that the stack “meets the requirements that are specific to the characteristics of the proposed well.”