February 11, 2011 / 9:54 PM / 7 years ago

No big backlog on deepwater drilling permits-US bureau

* BOEM’s Bromwich says five permits await consideration

* Still expects one or more to be OK’d before 3Q

HOUSTON, Feb 11 (Reuters) - The U.S. offshore drilling regulator said on Friday that five deepwater drilling permit applications are awaiting government approval and he still expects at least one to be approved before the third quarter this year.

“There’s a misperception out there that there’s a huge number of permit applications that are lying there unacted on. That has actually never been the case,” Michael Bromwich, head of the U.S. Interior Department’s Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, said after giving a speech at Rice University in Houston on Friday.

He spoke as part of a day-long program about the future of the U.S. offshore drilling industry in the aftermath of last year’s blowout of BP Plc’s (BP.L) (BP.N) Macondo well that gushed more than 4 million barrels of oil into the Gulf of Mexico.

The U.S. government shut down new drilling for several months and has imposed more stringent safety and equipment requirements for permits, including detailed plans of how to contain an oil spill if a blowout occurs.

Bromwich said perceptions of a huge backlog of unapproved deepwater drilling permits is false.

He said operators could be holding back on filing permit applications until they’re sure drilling plans will satisfy all the new requirements.

    “There’s no significant backlog and there really hasn’t been a significant backlog in the last eight months,” Bromwich said.

    After the Macondo disaster, Exxon Mobil Corp (XOM.N) and other oil majors that operate in the Gulf formed a consortium, the Marine Well Containment Company, to build spill containment and prevention systems. The consortium expects to have its first phase of equipment ready this month, and an expanded system ready next year.

    Bromwich said a key piece of that equipment will be tested next week.

    “There’s going to be a testing of the capping stack next week,” he said of a giant stack of valves and pipes that would be placed atop a blown-out well to cap and contain it. (Reporting by Kristen Hays; Editing by Lisa Shumaker)

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