WASHINGTON — Oil industry representatives went before a congressional committee Wednesday to criticize the Obama administration for what they called the intentional stalling of drilling permit approvals in the Gulf of Mexico.
Chris Auer, an owner with a company that helps Gulf rigs shut down, told the House Natural Resources Committee that gaining a permit has grown in length from 42 days prior to the BP Deepwater Horizon disaster last year to 129 days, frustrating companies.
“They’re not asking for a handout; they’re asking for the handcuffs to be removed,” said Auer, owner of Crevalle Management Services in Texas.
The number of permits issued per month has dropped from 71 to 52, a 27 percent decline, said Committee Chairman Doc Hastings, R-Wash.,
Eleven rigs have left the Gulf since the moratorium, which ended a year ago Wednesday, Hastings said.
Statistics were bandied about during the hearing, with Democrats and Republicans each flinging them to make their points.
Oil production in the Gulf has risen from 1.16 million barrels per day to 1.40 million under the Obama administration, said Rep. Ed Markey, D-Mass., the ranking Democrat on the panel.
Markey bristled at the hearing title “Lingering Impact of Offshore Drilling Moratorium.”
“Holding a hearing on the impact of a safety check following an unimaginable oil spill is a little like holding a hearing on the impact of wearing a cast after shattering your leg, without looking at the accident that required the cast,” Markey said.
Committee member Jeff Landry, R-New Iberia, acknowledged that production in the Gulf may be up, but argued that most of the increase is due to larger wells that were on line prior to the Deepwater Horizon disaster.
The drilling permit process is not only causing lost jobs, but affecting a way of life for communities, Landry said.
“It’s a hand-in-glove industry,” Landry said. “It trickles down to every facet of our life down to the gas pump.”
The chief financial officer for ATP Oil and Gas Corp. in Texas, Al Reese Jr., told the committee one of his permits required 3,600 pages.
In the past such permits averaged 30 to 40 pages, Reese said.
“If you have a 3,600-page document, it’s going to take a long time,” Reese said.
Auer told the committee he would like to see more federal workers to issue permits, the standardization of permitting forms and the automation of the permitting process.
Committee member John Fleming, R-Minden, agreed.
“There is no certainty in the process,” Fleming said.
The committee meeting was criticized for being one-sided by the Checks And Balance Project, a liberal think-tank in Denver, Colo., that focuses in part on energy issues.
Matt Garrington, a leader of the nonprofit group, said Reese contributed $1,000 to Hastings’ re-election campaign in April.
The hearings are held to hammer home Republican points, Garrington said.
“They have been doing this dog and pony show over the last year,” Garrington said. “It’s the same thing they keep repeating.”
The panel heard testimony about the detrimental impact of the spill from a representative of the Florida tourism industry.
An LSU biologist also testified about the negative impact that the spill had on the cells of fish in the Louisiana marshlands.
The committee will meet again Thursday, when it is scheduled to hear from the Interior Department’s chief drilling regulator, Michael Bromwich, who will be testifying on a recent government report looking into the accident.
The BP Deepwater Horizon rig exploded on April 20, 2010, killing 11 men and resulting in the discharge of 4.9 million barrels of oil into the Gulf, the largest spill in U.S. history.