Study: Gulf drilling permits speed up, still below pre-spill rate

“On aggregate, in the 12 months following the lifting of the moratorium, the 51 permits approved result in an annual rate of approval that was 32 percent of the historical average (151 permits),” the consulting firm states.

The study was commissioned by the Gulf Economic Survival Team, a group that pushes for faster drilling permit approvals. The new figures update a July IHS-CERA report that claimed Interior’s pace of permitting was hindering job creation in the region, which is also a common refrain from GOP critics of the department.

Michael Bromwich, who recently ended his tenure atop the department’s overhauled offshore drilling branch, has warned that tougher safety standards and more in-depth reviews mean that the rate of approvals isn't going to return to the more laissez-faire pace before the spill.

But he has also bashed industry claims about the rate of permit approvals, including the July IHS-CERA study, alleging critics are skewing the data. Interior, in a statement Wednesday, defended its permitting regime. From Interior:

In the wake of the Deepwater Horizon oil spill, the Obama Administration put into place significant new safeguards to ensure we leverage our important offshore oil and gas resources safely and responsibly. Production continued even as these prudent steps were taken and we are continuing to approve drilling permits as applicants meet these new, important standards. In fact, over the last two years, oil production from the federal U.S. Outer Continental Shelf has increased by more than a third, from 446 million barrels in 2008 to an estimated more than 600 million barrels in 2010, according to EIA.

Interior also argues that critics focusing on approval of permits for new wells aren't capturing the whole permitting picture compared to the pre-spill period, noting permits for wells that were halted after the spill and others.

As of Tuesday, Interior’s offshore branch has approved 216 permits for 60 separate wells since permitting restarted in February, the department said.