Note: the following story includes an update, 3/23, 6:00 pm CST:
The Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, Regulation and Enforcement (BOEMRE) has greenlit the first new off-shore deepwater drilling rig in the Gulf of Mexico since last April’s Macondo blow-out. Other drilling has restarted since then, but this – the contract from ExxonMobil — is the very first rig that will drill for fresh oil in the Gulf, in the Keathley Canyon area.*
Also, on Monday the BOEMRE announced the approval of three exploratory drilling operations on the part of Shell Oil. Yet the kickoff for renewed deepwater drilling in the Gulf of Mexico couldn’t have come at a more controversial time.
On their web site, ExxonMobil doesn’t say anything about the new drilling this week. In a press release issued Mar. 16, it announced its partnership with Marine Well Containment Company. The partnership applies to the new drilling and any unfortunate accidents that could arise as a result of drilling.
This morning, BOEMRE updated its “Status of Well Permits and Plans Subject to Enhanced Safety and Environmental Requirements” page on its web site. The report shows that since October of last year, changes have been made to the overall review process including for shallow water drilling.
“Shallow water drilling operations, which were not affected by the deepwater drilling moratorium, became subject to new rules and information requirements as of June 8, 2010. Operators drilling in shallow water must comply with all applicable rules, regulations and information requirements,” BOEMRE states.
Also, in addition to existing policies, shallow and deepwater permits are now subject to new regulations and standards,”as explained in Notice to Lessees (NTL) 2010-N06 (known as the Environmental NTL), NTL 2010-N10 (known as the Compliance and Review NTL), and as set forth in the Interim Final Rule (known as the Drilling Safety Rule),” says BOEMRE.
As companies resume operations, they must also comply with a Workplace Safety Rule.
However, these are choppy waters for the federal agencies tasked with giving the all clear sign. Since the weekend, two incidents have been spotted and one officially ruled a fresh oil leak or spill off Grand Isle, Elmer’s Isle and Fourchon Beach, LA.
Yesterday, the US Coast Guard’s federal on-scene coordinator for this new response – Capt. Jonathan Butler – told the media assembled in New Orleans that an official source for this oil had not yet been determined. Thus, they were billing the federal government for cleanup operations – with contractor ES&H putting boots to the ground on the shore – until the source was named.
Although local reports point to one company in particular for the oil leak, as of this morning the Coast Guard is still not officially naming a source for the oil.
Update: 11:45 a.m. CST:
A spokesperson from Exxon Mobil, Patrick McGinn, e-mailed in response to my request for an interview. He wrote:
“ExxonMobil has received a deepwater Gulf of Mexico drilling permit for Hadrian North in Keathley Canyon 919 after meeting all of the BOEMRE’s new requirements and regulations. We support the BOEMRE’s efforts to restart safe drilling in the Gulf of Mexico so that tens of thousands of Americans can return to work.
We have a newly built, state of the art drilling rig standing by. The rig is the Maersk Developer.”
Note: McGinn did not specify when exactly the rig that is “standing by” would actually
start the drilling. If Examiner is able to get an interview, that report will appear
in a subsequent article.
* As reported (and linked to an article from) the Times-Picayune staff report.
Also note: Capt. Butler was in the original version of this article referred to as Officer Burton. The author regrets the error.