The Obama administration is approving only 37 percent of the deepwater drilling plans submitted this year — a figure that falls below even last year’s low approval rate. It’s also taking federal bureaucrats an average of 115 days to approve the plans, nearly double the historical average.

Greater New Orleans Inc. reported the numbers as part of its Gulf Permit Index, a measure of permit issuance. The data was provided by the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, Regulation, and Enforcement, which oversees shallow-water and deepwater permits.

Last year’s numbers were down sharply, a result of the worst oil spill in U.S. history and a drilling moratorium that lasted until Oct. 12, 2010. But they have continued to take a nosedive in 2011. A few highlights:

  • Over the past five years, 73.4 percent of plans submitted to BOEMRE were approved. That number dropped to 52 percent in 2010 and stands at 37 percent in 2011.
  • The federal government approved these plans in an average of 60.6 days over the past five years. That number increased to 67 days in 2010. But it skyrocketed to 115 days this year.
  • So far in October, the government has issued just one deepwater drilling permit. The average over the past three years is seven new permit approvals per month.

The only good news for job creators involves shallow-water permits. Ten of these permits have been approved in October, reaching double digits for the first time since the April 2010 oil spill.

Greater New Orleans Inc. estimates that each deepwater drilling rig provides 700 jobs in Louisiana. A shallow-rig provides 350 jobs. There are indirect beneficiaries across the country as well.

Heritage’s Nick Loris recently wrote about the importance of increasing energy exploration — both for job creation and raising much-needed revenue for the federal government.

Allowing access for exploration and creating an efficient regulatory process that allows energy projects to move forward in a timely manner will not only increase revenue through more royalties, leases, and rent; it will also create jobs and help lower energy prices in the process.

The Gulf of Mexico isn’t the only area facing bureaucratic delays. Loris notes that onshore drilling and natural gas production are also suffering from Washington’s inertia.