Interior backs another deepwater drilling permit but GOP attacks press on

The new permit will allow BHP, which is Australia’s largest oil-and-gas producer, to resume the Gulf of Mexico drilling that it began February 16 in 4,234 feet of water, according to a spokeswoman for Interior’s ocean energy bureau.

Interior officials said when approving Noble’s permit that other approvals were expected in the weeks and months ahead.

But the plans for resumed permitting have not abated GOP criticism, especially as increased gasoline and oil prices have put energy at the top of the Republican political agenda.

House Republican leaders – blaming the White House for rising costs – on Thursday launched their “American Energy Initiative,” which includes planned bills to widen U.S. drilling and speed-up permitting for various kinds of energy projects.

And Republicans have scheduled multiple hearings next week to make their case.

Among them: The House Natural Resources Committee will hold a Wednesday hearing titled “The Obama Administration’s De Facto Moratorium in the Gulf of Mexico: Community and Economic Impacts,” and follow up with a Thursday session on “Harnessing American Resources to Create Jobs and Address Rising Gasoline Prices.”

In addition, 20 Republicans floated legislation Friday that would force the White House’s Council on Environmental Quality to report annually to Congress on the number of permit applications for various kinds of projects that remain under environmental review.

“We have got a permitting process that is failing America, and we have an opportunity today to show America just how bad that problem is,” said Rep. Bill Johnson (R-Ohio), the bill’s lead sponsor, on the House floor Friday.

“We are going to show the American people through a report . . . just how flawed that permitting process is, requiring them to show the permits that are in-cycle and what the economic implications are of not authorizing permits to go after American resources,” he said.

President Obama sought to seize control of the political narrative on energy prices Friday. He held a news conference in which he stressed the administration’s commitment to oil-and-gas production, while highlighting his push for a broader energy strategy that promotes green alternatives and conservation.

Obama also said he was prepared to tap the Strategic Petroleum Reserve if necessary. “If we see significant [supply] disruptions or shifts in the market that are so disconcerting to people that we think a Strategic Petroleum Reserve release might be appropriate, then we'll take that step,” Obama said, while emphasizing that there isn’t currently a supply shortage.