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Oil Exec Undercuts Criticism of Slow Approval Process for Deepwater Wells

Critics of the Obama administration’s permitting process for offshore drilling have included oil companies, Gulf state lawmakers and even former President Bill Clinton, who earlier this month surprised attendees at an energy conference when he called the delays “ridiculous.”

So far, offshore drilling regulators have approved six permits—three of them last week—to drill in deep water, but the American Petroleum Institute, an industry trade group, isn’t satisfied. According to The Hill, the group is planning to release a graphic alleging that the administration has “taken specific steps to stop or delay the development of domestic oil and natural gas resources,” noting that “it has approved only a handful of deep water permits” since the BP spill last April.

But one oil industry executive has had a slightly different take and says the administration hasn't been a roadblock. In recent comments to the Houston Chronicle’s Tom Fowler, Chevron’s Gary Luquette, president of the company’s North American exploration and production division, said the permitting process for deepwater wells has indeed been slow, but that’s because regulators and industry have both been trying to figure out the new drilling rules issued last year.

”It was not a ‘black hole’ where you were not hearing anything,” Luquette said. “They were genuinely trying to get answers to our questions.”

Chevron was one of the companies that received a permit approval last week. As we’ve noted, Michael Bromwich, head of the revamped offshore drilling agency, had vowed not to approve deepwater drilling permits until oil companies could prove their ability to contain spills in deep water.

Two spill containment systems have been created by competing companies. The agency has since approved permits using both.

Bromwich has said that the pace of permitting won’t return to what it was before the BP spill, which turned attention to a flimsy permitting process that allowed deep water drilling projects to be fast tracked and subjected to less environmental review.

“We have a new normal,” he told an oil industry conference last month ($). “It’s going to take more time than in the past.”

Interior Department officials have also blamed the slow pace on lack of funding.

“If we don't get the horsepower to be able to process permits under what is now a greater degree of scrutiny, we may never return to the pre-Macondo rate of permitting,” Reuters reported Interior Secretary Ken Salazar as saying.

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