- The Washington Times - Thursday, October 14, 2010

ANALYSIS/OPINION:

While the Obama administration grabs headlines by announcing an end to the deep-water-drilling moratorium, our nation’s jobs and energy security remain at risk because of a regulatory “blockade” that is being imposed on energy production in this country. Unless regulators start issuing permits for safe oil and gas drilling, we cannot produce the energy America needs.

Unfortunately, federal officials at the Department of the Interior and its Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, Regulation and Enforcement have imposed a “one size fits all” approach to permitting that ignores the strong track record of the shallow-water-drilling industry. The recent history of shallow-water permitting in the Gulf of Mexico is a cautionary tale for those who profess optimism about the end of the deep-water-drilling moratorium. Although the moratorium on shallow-water drilling was lifted in May, a de factomoratorium remains in place more than five months later.

Shallow-water operators have long performed environmentally sensitive exploration in the Gulf in a manner that maintains the safety of our employees. For more than six decades, offshore shallow-water-drilling operations have been conducted safely and with minimal incident. Our employees have developed significant experience, expertise and oversight capabilities to conduct shallow-water operations. These skilled employees use some of the best technologies in the world to manage risk - such as surface blowout preventers that operate above the surface of the water, are maintained constantly and can be deployed instantly in the event of an emergency. In the past 15 years, shallow-water operators have drilled more than 11,000 wells and only spilled a combined total of 15 barrels of oil.

Nevertheless, the ocean-energy bureau continues to hold shallow-water-drilling permits hostage, issuing just 12 permits for new wells in five months. One-quarter of the shallow rigs in the Gulf have gone idle, and some already have begun to leave for other parts of the world. Thousands of American jobs have been put in jeopardy. Shallow-water permits have languished in the bureau despite the fact that the low-risk wells involve mostly natural-gas exploration in mature, predictable and known reservoirs - and are drilled using rigs with proven methods and blowout preventers that sit on the rig.

In light of this continued regulatory inaction, we are grateful for the decisive action taken by Louisiana’s Democratic Sen. Mary L. Landrieu. Mrs. Landrieu has stood up not just for the thousands of hardworking men and women in the oil and gas industry but for the welders, fabricators, equipment manufacturers, longshoremen, helicopter pilots, truckers, restaurant owners, supply-boat captains and scores of others all across the nation who support energy exploration. Because of her courage and leadership and the support of a bipartisan group of senators and congressmen from across the Gulf South and other regions of the country, we can hope that jobs will be saved and our country’s energy needs will be more secure.

Also, it is noteworthy that the nomination Mrs. Landrieu has placed on hold - director of the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) - has a strong role in federal regulatory oversight. The OMB is home to the Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs, headed by law professor Cass R. Sunstein, which reviews federal regulations and considers their economic impact. The de factoregulatory moratorium on offshore energy production - and its severe economic impact on jobs, gas prices and our national energy security - certainly deserves careful review and swift action. Mrs. Landrieu’s actions should focus the federal government’s attention on this issue and bring it to a speedy resolution.

The Shallow Water Energy Security Coalition is working on behalf of the 40,000 workers employed among in our industry companies and the 180,000 people directly employed in oil and gas exploration along the Gulf Coast. We’d rather have a paycheck than an unemployment check, a BP claims check or a welfare check. We don’t want a bailout form the federal government. We just want to go back to work. What we need is decisive action, not hollow pronouncements. Until we get decisive action on permitting, this de facto moratorium will continue, job losses will mount and our nation’s economic and energy security will be put at risk.

Jim Noe is the executive director of the Shallow Water Energy Security Coalition.

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