Oil and gas industry leaders leave meeting with secretary frustrated

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by Doug Mouton / Eyewitness News

wwltv.com

Posted on November 22, 2010 at 7:12 PM

Updated Monday, Nov 22 at 7:12 PM

HOUMA, La. -- Frustration is growing in the Louisiana oil and gas industry. U.S. Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar visited Houma Monday to meet with industry leaders.

Industry leaders left frustrated.

"I don't have very much faith in what these people are doing," Todd Hornbeck of Hornbeck Offshore said after the meeting. "They change their minds like the wind changes."

Hornbeck and Salazar saw the meeting very differently.

"I am encouraged that operators are moving quickly to comply with the higher standards for safety and environmental protection that we have set," Salazar said.

"We all came expecting, hoping for a new policy decision, a breakthrough in terms of permitting, at least a new set of permits issued, and we heard none of that," said Sen. David Vitter. "Quite frankly, that was extremely disappointing and frustrating."

Salazar said he came to Houma for Monday's meeting at the request of Louisiana Sen. Mary Landrieu. Landrieu did not attend the meeting, but later issued a statement saying, "I am extremely disappointed that Secretary Salazar's presentation today failed to provide regulatory certainty and a clear path for speeding up the process of issuing drilling permits."

"I would summarize the meeting as a filibuster," said former interim Lt. Gov. Scott Angelle.

After the one-hour meeting, Salazar met with reporters and said, "There are new rules of the road, and the new rules of the road are taking some time to put into place, and having industry come into compliance with those new rules of the road, and so this is a learning experience."

The drilling moratorium officially ended Oct. 12, but industry leaders say administration policies have led to a de-facto moritorium, which has amounted to the same thing.

The two sides not only disagreed about the effectiveness of Monday's meeting. They also disagreed over permits.

"We have a very small number of applications currently pending," Michael Bromwich said. Bromwich is the director of the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, Regulation and Enforcement.

"I think the reason there are very few permit applications pending is that the goalpost keeps moving," Vitter responded. "If the rules change every month, you're never going to have a long list of permits pending because they constantly need to be pulled an re-done."

"In one case," Angelle said, "we had a permit application that was returned because the font size was not the correct size."

Bottom line, industry leaders said, they're running out of time and patience.

"The rest of the world's oil and gas industries don't agree with what this administration is doing," Hornbeck said. "They're not stopping drilling. They're going to take these assets and move them to their countries. As soon as we get an opportunity, we're moving those assets overseas; we're not sitting around game with this administration, we can't afford to."

The only thing the two sides agreed on Monday was to meet again in December.

"A promise of another meeting isn't exactly what we were looking for today," Vitter said.

"If this was intended to be a dog and pony show," Angelle said, "the dog showed up but the pony didn't."

 

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