Obama Team Issues New Deepwater Drilling Pause : The Two-Way Interior Secretary Ken Salazas told his agency to craft a new pause on deepwater oil drilling.
NPR logo Obama Team Issues New Deepwater Drilling Pause

Obama Team Issues New Deepwater Drilling Pause

After having two federal courts slap down its moratorium on deepwater oil drilling, the Obama Administration took another run Monday at maintaining a temporary halt on such activities, with Interior Secretary Ken Salazar telling his agency to impose a new pause which he hopes will pass judicial review.

An excerpt from an Obama Administration press release:

"More than eighty days into the BP oil spill, a pause on deepwater drilling is essential and appropriate to protect communities, coasts, and wildlife from the risks that deepwater drilling currently pose," said Secretary Salazar.  "I am basing my decision on evidence that grows every day of the industry's inability in the deepwater to contain a catastrophic blowout, respond to an oil spill, and to operate safely."

Secretary Salazar's decision to impose new deepwater drilling suspensions is based on his authorities and responsibilities under the Outer Continental Shelf Lands Act (OCSLA) to ensure safe operations on the OCS.  The new decision is supported by an extensive record of existing and new information indicating that allowing new deepwater drilling to commence would pose a threat of serious, irreparable, or immediate harm or damage to the marine, coastal, and human environment.

In a decision memorandum to BOEM Director Michael R. Bromwich, Salazar said that a temporary pause on deepwater drilling will provide time to implement recent safety reforms and for:

1.        The submission of evidence by operators demonstrating that they have the ability to respond effectively to a potential oil spill in the Gulf, given the unprecedented commitment of available oil spill response resources that are now being dedicated to the BP oil spill;

2.        The assessment of wild well intervention and blowout containment resources  to determine the strategies and methods by which they can be made more readily available should another blowout occur; and

3.        The collection and analysis of key evidence regarding the potential causes of the April 20, 2010 explosion and sinking of the Deepwater Horizon offshore drilling rig, including information collected by the Presidential Commission and other investigations.

The administration had vowed to rework its moratorium ever since a U.S. district judge struck down its initial attempt. The judge concluded that the Interior Department hadn't made a strong enough case that there were unsafe widespread industry practices that made a moratorium essential.

The judge also concluded that the administration didn't give enough consideration to the economic dislocation its moratorium would cause as energy industry workers lost jobs. An appeals court ruled against the administration as well.

As far as the American Petroleum Institute was concerned, there was nothing new and improved about the administration's revised moratorium.

“It is unnecessary and shortsighted to shut down a major part of the nation’s energy lifeline while working to enhance offshore safety.  The new moratorium threatens enormous harm to the nation and to the Gulf region.  It places the jobs of tens of thousands of workers in serious and immediate jeopardy and promises a substantial reduction in domestic energy production.  No certain and expeditious path forward has been established for a resumption of drilling.

“The 33 now idle deepwater drilling rigs in the Gulf have passed thorough government inspections and are ready to be put back to work.  The industry has been working extremely hard on all fronts to enhance safety – and will continue to do so.  And the government has already imposed significant, additional safety requirements that are supported by the industry.  A resumption of drilling would proceed only under the most intense and vigilant oversight.

“Eighty percent of the oil and 45 percent of the natural gas produced in the Gulf come from deepwater areas.  The 20 most prolific producing blocks in the Gulf are located in deepwater. Deepwater is indispensable to a strong and secure energy future.  The moratorium makes that future uncertain.

“We strongly encourage the department to reconsider its decision and establish a process and timeline for putting our deepwater companies and highly skilled employees in the Gulf region back to work.”