Interior to oil companies: Drill faster

For waters between 800 and 1,600 meters, the leases will be seven years rather than the prior 10, but extensions are possible for those as well. The traditional 10-year leases will remain in place for waters deeper than 1,600 meters.

Interior’s Minerals Management Service “recognizes that advances in technology have decreased the time necessary for exploration and development in some water depths, while frontier conditions still exist in the deepest waters of the Gulf," said MMS Director Liz Birnbaum in a prepared statement.

“The reduction of some initial lease periods with possible extensions is a way to expedite development,” she added.

Democrats, in recent years, have responded to industry and GOP calls for leasing in once-restricted areas with allegations that oil companies aren’t aggressively developing acreage already under lease.

Democrats such as Rep. Edward Markey (Mass.) and the Obama administration have called for new fees on non-producing leases, most recently in the fiscal 2011 White House budget request.