* Official says Interior won't become permitting mill
* BP spill changed agency outlook on regulation
* U.S. looks to add regulatory staff
(Adds Bromwich comments from Vancouver conference)
By Ayesha Rascoe
WASHINGTON, Oct 18 The U.S. offshore drilling
agency will not become a "permitting mill" now that its
deepwater drilling moratorium has been lifted, the agency's
head said on Monday.
In an op-ed posted on CNN's website, Michael Bromwich, head
of the Interior Department's Bureau of Ocean Energy Management,
blasted critics who have complained unnecessary permitting
delays will hamper offshore oil development even though the
drilling ban has ended.
"That judgment is based on the standards of the past when
safety and environmental standards were fewer," Bromwich said.
Interior ended its temporary ban on exploratory drilling at
depths more than 500 feet (152 meters) last week after imposing
new rules aimed at preventing another disastrous drilling
accident like the BP (BP.L) spill that ravaged the Gulf for
months this summer.
The BP accident, which spurred the drilling ban, changed
the agency's outlook on regulation, Bromwich said.
"Those who expect our agency to be a permitting mill...
misjudge the impact of Deepwater Horizon on the people
responsible for regulating the industry and their collective
commitment to safety and environmental protection," Bromwich
The agency has said it hopes to begin approving permits by
the end of the year. Bromwich stressed that "political
considerations" are not responsible for a slower permitting
pace for offshore oil and gas projects.
Instead, he blamed the more stringent drilling regulations
and a lack of agency resources for permitting delays.
Shallow water drillers, who were not covered by the
drilling ban, complained lengthy waiting times for permits have
amounted to a de facto ban on all oil drilling.
Additional Interior employees have been assigned to the
Gulf of Mexico office to speed up the permitting process, but
Bromwich said his agency will not "rubber stamp" permits.
Bromwich told a meeting of drilling safety officials on
Monday that a lesson learned from the Gulf of Mexico spill was
that U.S. regulators had lacked sufficient staff and resources
to keep pace with the industry.
"It's quite right that we will never reduce (the risk of an
accident) to zero, but we had moved too far away from zero
before," he told the International Regulators Forum in
Bromwich said he hopes as many as 200 inspectors, engineers
and other staff can eventually be added to the agency to
improve oversight, as regulators tighten standards for
equipment and environmental safety.
(With reporting by Allan Dowd in Vancouver; editing by Lisa
Shumaker and Rob Wilson)