Louisiana Oil Industry Reacts To New Drilling Ban
MICHELE NORRIS, host:
Drilling operations in the Gulf of Mexico now have a new suspension order to contend with. Following court rejection of its previous moratorium, the Department of Interior yesterday released a new, differently worded version. The oil and gas industry, Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal and others, have come out against a six-month restriction. They say that it, like the first one, will force many rigs to leave and lead workers to lose their jobs.
NPR's Yuki Noguchi reports.
YUKI NOGUCHI: The oil and gas industry's victory in the courts appears short lived. Though last month an appeals court upheld the lower court decision, calling the government's first attempt arbitrary and unjustified, the industry has not put affected workers back on the job.
Don Briggs is president of the Louisiana Oil and Gas Association. Briggs says none of the affected rigs started cranking again, knowing the government was going to make a fresh run at shutting them down.
Mr. DON BRIGGS (President, Louisiana Oil and Gas Association): We just call it a de facto moratorium. And that's the reality of it. And companies are continuing their exodus. They're making plans to leave.
NOGUCHI: He says rigs and contractors are leaving for Brazil, Ethiopia, Angola. And Briggs says this time he doesn't think the industry will fight its case in court.
Mr. BRIGGS: Oh, no. I don't think we got the grounds now. We knew we did when we read the first one. But the way this thing is written, it's written to take care of the problems that they had in the court.
NOGUCHI: Briggs says in the town where he lives, Lafayette, Louisiana, more than a third of the economy depends on his industry. Talking about the impact this might have there, he sounds dejected.
Mr. BRIGGS: I feel very sad about it all because I have been - I've been listening to the heartaches of people so much and to their fear. It truly gets to you after a while.
Mr. LAURENT SPENSON (Operations Manager, Marlin Energy): This industry has been everything to me from the time I was in college.
NOGUCHI: Laurent Spenson(ph) is an operations manager for Marlin Energy. He says his exploration and production business is now operating at 30 percent its normal capacity. And he's watching contractors and experts Marlin depends on start to pack their bags and leave the area.
Mr. SPENSON: The Gulf of Mexico has become a politically unstable place to operate.
NOGUCHI: But in the face of criticism, the government defends its decision. Michael Bromwich heads the newly created Bureau of Ocean Energy Management. Speaking at a hearing in New Orleans, Bromwich said the Gulf simply could not handle another spill.
Mr. MICHAEL BROMWICH (Director, Bureau of Ocean Energy Management): And so long as the spill is out there, has not been contained and that the oil spill response capabilities are all being consumed by the current spill, the secretary concluded that it is simply too risky to allow deepwater drilling to continue.
NOGUCHI: He said the moratorium will last through November unless Interior Department Secretary Ken Salazar decides to (unintelligible) and proceed safely.
Ms. LOIS EPSTEIN (Engineering Consultant): I question whether there is going to be the dire consequences in terms of the economy of the region that the industry is claiming.
NOGUCHI: Lois Epstein is an engineering consultant, who along with others, helped draft an early set of recommendations to the administration. Many of the other contributors did not endorse the blanket moratorium on drilling and felt their opinions were misrepresented.
But Epstein says she endorses a temporary halt. Drilling is a relatively small part of the overall industry. Tens of thousands of existing rigs continue pumping oil in the Gulf. And she says until the root cause of BP's spill is understood, it would be irresponsible not to stop new drilling.
Yuki Noguchi, NPR News.