In a Senate Natural Resources Committee hearing Wednesday, Interior Secretary Ken Salazar said he believes the judge who ruled in February that the department must move forward on five pending deepwater drilling permits is "wrong" and does not have the jurisdiction to tell his department what to do.
But he and his aides also said they are already moving forward on the requested permits and Interior Undersecretary David Hayes said the department will comply with the court order in the meantime.
Under criticism from some of the Gulf Coast Senators as well as Senator Murkowski of Alaska, Salazar said the agency has issued 37 permits out of 47 requests for shallow water drilling. Of the 18 applications for deepwater wells, one has been approved, 12 have been sent back for more information and five are pending.
Lawmakers still complained the department is moving too slowly.
"We're so far off the historic level, we've got to get it back up as quickly as possible," Sen. Mary Landrieu, D-La., said. "What I'm still hearing from the industry is uncertainty, they are still getting mixed signals, from the office down in the gulf as well as from up here."
Interior staff went to Texas last week to inspect containment capabilities in the case of a blowout and new technology is what prompted the approval Monday of the first deep water permit since the moratorium.
"Until literally last week there was no containment capability being shown by any of the permit applicants," Hayes said. "Now that is in place on a well by well basis, so we're very pleased to be able to move forward and begin granting permits again."
Though he would not lay out a timeline, Salazar told Senators the Department of Interior will move forward with permits for deep water drilling.
Fox News producer Wes Barrett contributed to this report.