by Katie Valentine
Federal regulators have issued the most permits for deepwater drilling in the Gulf of Mexico this year since 2007.
That’s according to data from the Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement, as reported by the New Orleans Times-Picayune.
So far this year, the government has issued 90 new drilling permits for wells deeper than 500 feet — more than the last two years combined and more than each of the two years before the Deepwater Horizon oil spill in 2010.
The news comes on the heels of President Obama and Governor Romney’s heated exchange about energy development during the second presidential debate last week. It further refutes Romney’s claims that new licenses and permits for drilling are down under the Obama administration, and backs up a report from Representative Edward Markey, which finds oil and gas companies have 3,684 idle leases in the Gulf of Mexico.
Oil production from existing federal leases in the Gulf of Mexico is also increasing, according the Times-Picayune:
Nearly 1.3 million gallons of oil were produced per day in July, up from 1.2 million gallons the year before, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration. That’s still down from 1.7 million gallons in 2009, the year before the spill.
That number is projected to grow to 1.4 million gallons per day by the end of 2013, according to federal estimates.
Andy Radford, a senior policy analyst with the American Petroleum Institute, expects deepwater drilling will continue to pick up, as additional rigs become available and operators become accustomed to the regulations and resumed pace of permitting.
Many operators are now trying to build up a cache of permits so that when drilling rigs become available, they can make a move, Radford said, which shows that operators are bullish on the outlook of drilling in the Gulf.
In fact, U.S. oil production is at its highest level since 1997, according to government figures. Though Republicans often tout domestic production as the key to lower gas prices, current and historical experiences shows that isn’t the case: fuel prices are still high today, in spite of record production levels, because the price of oil is determined by the global market.
An Associated Press analysis of 36 years of data on oil production and gasoline prices found “no statistical correlation between how much oil comes out of U.S. wells and the price at the pump.”
The surge in new drilling permits has to do with better communication of new rules and regulations between oil companies and government officials, industry analysts say. The Obama administration suspended deepwater drilling in the Gulf of Mexico for six months following the Deepwater Horizon spill, a decision that was criticized by the oil industry and Gulf coast officials, who said it was excessive and would hurt the industry and the Gulf economy.
After lifting the moratorium early in October 2010, administration officials said the time period had been necessary put into place new rules and requirements that would reduce the risks of drilling enough to prevent another disaster.
More than two years later, the consequences of the Deepwater Horizon spill are still playing out. Oil has been leaking from a 100-ton containment device on the seafloor near the site of the Macondo well blowout since at least September 16 of this year, when a sheen was discovered at the site. The leak is occurring at a rate at a rate of 100 barrels per day, and tests have confirmed the oil matches that which flowed from the Macondo well in 2010.
August’s Hurricane Issac brought about 565,000 pounds of oiled material to the surface, more than had been collected in eight months before the storm. It’s estimated that up to 1 million barrels of oil from the spill remain beneath the ocean’s surface – oil that is affecting marine life in ways scientists still don’t know for sure.
In addition, scientists have discovered shrimp with no eyes or eye sockets and fish with deep lesions in the region.
Katie Valentine graduated from the University of Georgia with a degree in Journalism. She is currently an intern on the international climate policy team at the Center for American Progress.