Federal officials have issued the first new deepwater-drilling permit since the temporary drilling ban issued by the Obama administration in the wake of the Deepwater Horizon explosion and spill.
Although the popular sentiment — especially here — about the drilling ban was that it needlessly punished companies and workers who could have continued drilling, the latest development is an important milestone.
Not only does it signal that the drilling ban is, in fact, over, it also means that the government is taking seriously its responsibility to issue permits once all the necessary requirements have been met.
There was widespread fear that even after the ban was officially lifted, bureaucratic delays would continue to hold back drilling activity in the Gulf.
There is ample reason for people along Louisiana’s coast to look warily at Washington, D.C., as companies try to get back to work. But for now, at least, there is also reason for hope.
In the aftermath of the deadly explosion, Obama and his advisers spoke frequently about the need to reconsider safety protocols, particularly in the deepwater Gulf. There was also much talk about beefing up regulatory services meant to make sure the companies are following the protocols that do exist.
Against that backdrop, the drilling ban was presented as a way to make sure no further catastrophe would occur before the procedures could be revamped.
Anyone watching the explosion and its horrific consequences will agree that those safety concerns must be addressed with a sense of urgency. However, the drilling that was under way or planned could have progressed without considerable worry. The ban, unfortunately, threatened to play havoc with our region’s economy without the payoff of significantly improved safety.
The fact that the ban has been lifted in earnest is a good sign that some of those worries can be set aside.
The Gulf oilfield has been a remarkably lucrative cog in south Louisiana’s economy. It benefits the many companies and, more importantly, the many employees who work in the oilfield or perform services for the companies that do.
It also, though, represents a significant portion of the nation’s energy supply, a portion that should not be tampered with for short-term political gain.
Let’s hope the fact that permitting for deepwater drilling has begun again is a strong signal that the federal government once again recognizes the role the oilfield plays will not soon repeat its error.
Let’s move ahead to a new, safer world of Gulf drilling. But by all means, let’s not shut off the very activity we seek to improve.