Interior Department Unveils New Drilling Rules

The Obama administration may be on the verge of lifting its moratorium on deep-water drilling in the Gulf of Mexico. New rules designed to improve safety and equipment on offshore drilling rigs were announced Thursday. But the Interior Department said it was not yet ready to lift a temporary ban on deep-water drilling.

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STEVE INSKEEP, host:

Now, you'll recall that after the BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, the Obama administration banned deep-water drilling in the Gulf until November 30th. The administration announced new rules yesterday designed to improve safety and equipment on drilling rigs.

NPR's Jeff Brady says these new rules mean the drilling moratorium may be lifted early.

JEFF BRADY: The new rules look pretty much like standards the Department of the Interior drafted a couple months back, when BP's blown-out well was still spewing oil into the Gulf of Mexico. One rule sets new standards for equipment, saying it must be inspected and certified by an independent engineer.

Interior Secretary Ken Salazar says the second rule requires companies to develop more detailed safety plans.

Secretary KEN SALAZAR (Department of the Interior): That rule aims to reduce the human and organizational errors that are the root cause of many accidents and oil spills.

BRADY: Salazar's announcement speech yesterday lasted more than 45 minutes, but he did not say the one thing the oil industry wanted to hear - that he was lifting the drilling moratorium.

Andy Radford is with the American Petroleum Institute.

Mr. ANDY RADFORD (American Petroleum Institute): We need to get people back to work in the Gulf, and the industry stands ready to make the changes needed to do that.

BRADY: Radford says there is some concern about how long it will take to get permits once the moratorium is lifted. Before making any announcement on that, Secretary Salazar has been waiting on a report from his Bureau of Ocean Energy Management. That report could land on his desk as early as today.

Jeff Brady, NPR News.

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