OFFSHORE DRILLING PERMITS TO CONTINUE IN A SHUTDOWN@

OFFSHORE DRILLING PERMITS TO CONTINUE IN A SHUTDOWN@

(For use by New York Times News Service clients.)@

By JENNIFER A. DLOUHY@

c. 2013 Hearst Newspapers@

WASHINGTON Regulators will keep issuing permits to drill offshore oil and gas wells, even if lawmakers don't reach a deal to keep funding the government after Tuesday. But onshore wells are a different story, as a separate federal agency plans to halt permit work.

The reason for the discrepancy has everything to do with federal funding streams and helps explain why some parts of the U.S. government are effectively exempted from a shutdown.

The Interior Department's Bureau of Land Management that deals with onshore wells is mostly reliant on money appropriated by Congress. However, most of the funding for Interior's Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement that oversees offshore wells is tied to revenue from industry fees and rental payments.

"The permitting and enforcement activities that continue would allow industry to function during a government shutdown," the safety bureau said in contingency plans. "Drilling and production safety (oversight) is critical to the conduct of safe drilling operations by industry."

Under a government shutdown, a number of energy-related programs would indefinitely cease, although some federal workers would stay on the job to continue inspecting oil and gas facilities and other activities deemed absolutely essential.

Here are some of the activities that would stop, according to contingency plans outlined by federal departments and agencies:

The Energy Department's processing of applications for exporting liquefied natural gas.

Testing of oil spill response equipment at a government facility in New Jersey.

Processing high bids for offshore oil and gas drilling rights sold during the western Gulf lease sale in August. According to the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, "this will likely delay both the issuance of leases and the associated payments to the Department of Treasury that occur upon execution of the lease."

Evaluation of new oil and gas exploration, production and development plans offshore.

Processing onshore oil and gas lease sales ad permits.

"This is a contingency plan that we hope won't happen," Interior Secretary Sally Jewell said in a video message to the department's employees.

Government officials stressed that work tied to human safety and protection of the environment would continue. As a result, even if the government shuts down, inspectors will continue visiting oil and gas facilities offshore and onshore, both for routine reviews and emergency inspections. If there were a major oil spill, "employees will be available for activation to handle the event," the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management said.

All told, about 369 safety bureau employees and 477 ocean energy bureau workers would be furloughed. About 10,200 Bureau of Land Management employees and 10,000 Energy Department employees also would be sent home during a lapse in funding.

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jennifer.dlouhy(a)chron.com