Shallow Waters Tarred With Deepwater Brush

There may be a moratorium on deepwater drilling, but that doesn't mean the Gulf of Mexico's shallow waters are immune from stricter regulation. More stringent rules mean the federal government is now taking longer to grant permits to operate in the shallow waters, and drillers aren't pleased. Wendy Siegle reports.

In June the Interior Department imposed tougher safety rules and environmental guidelines on deepwater and shallow water drilling operations. Since then, drillers have faced significant delays in getting permits to drill in shallow waters less than 500 feet deep. Jim Noe is the Vice President of Herculean Offshore and the Executive Director of the Shallow Water Energy Security Coalition. He says the level of scrutiny regulators are now giving to new shallow water drilling applications has created a quagmire.

“We got stuck in the mud with no traction on issuing new drilling permits in the shallow waters. Even though no moratorium was declared in the shallow water, we were under a defacto moratorium ‘cause we just weren’t getting drilling permits issued.”

Noe says, since the spill in April, just five new permits have been approved for wells in shallow waters. He says before the BP disaster, three to five permits a week was the norm. He says with 15 of 46 rigs sitting idle, the longer waiting times for approvals have put shallow water rigs in jeopardy.

“There’s a hundred workers that are employed by the drilling contractor on average. And so, 1500 workers that are on company’s payroll don’t have a job to do."

Noe says shallow water advocates support a robust, neutral regulatory body; they just don’t think it’s appropriate to paint all offshore drilling operations with the same regulatory brush.

“We do not discourage scrutiny and regulations. What we’re asking for is that shallow water operations have to be treated differently than deepwater operations.”

Environmentalists on the other hand are encouraged by the trend and say the government should continue with its stringent rules and lengthy review process.