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Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Obama Lifts Ban On Deep Water Drilling; But Hid BP Spill Truth

Obama Administration Lifts Deep-Water Drilling Moratorium

Interior Secretary Ken Salazar announced Tuesday that the Obama administration is lifting the Moratorium on deep-water oil drilling it put in place after the Gulf oil spill disaster.

Operators must comply with new rules and regulations in order to get permission to resume drilling, Salazar said.

"There will always be risks associated with deep-water drilling," Salazar said. "We have reached a point where we have significantly reduced those risks."

The six-month moratorium was first issued by Salazar in May after the April 20 explosion of BP's Deepwater Horizon drilling rig in the Gulf of Mexico that killed 11 people and triggered one of the worst environmental disasters in U.S. history.

When a federal judge overturned the ban and an appeals court agreed, Salazar issued a second ban in June that was scheduled to expire in November.

Critics of the ban, including Republican leaders, Gulf state officials and Gulf coast residents, said it would only hurt oil and gas workers in the already hard-hit coastal communities, where hundreds of jobs were lost because of the disaster.

Salazar said the moratorium provided time to make sure similar accidents involving a failed piece of equipment called a blowout preventer wouldn't occur, and that rig operators were prepared to deal with worst-case scenarios if it did happen.

Under the new requirements, operators must show that their proposed development and exploration plans can deal with potential blowouts and undergo detailed inspections and design reviews of blowout preventers by independent third parties, said Michael Bromwich, the new head of the federal agency that oversees offshore oil drilling.

Bromwich said it might take time for companies to come into full compliance, but he expected some permits for resumed drilling to be approved by the end of the year.

"We will not approve permits without vital supplemental information required by the rules," said Bromwich, director of the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, Regulation and Enforcement.

Democratic Sen. Mary Landrieu of Louisiana, a critic of the moratorium, called Tuesday's announcement a good first step but said more was needed to help the region's oil and gas industry get back to work.

"This means that the administration must continue to accelerate the granting of permits in shallow and deep water, and provide greater certainty about the rules and regulations industry must meet," Landrieu said in a statement.

Landrieu has blocked Senate consideration of President Barack Obama's nomination of Jacob Lew to become the new director of the White House Office of Management and Budget to protest the moratorium. Her statement said she would study the situation in coming weeks before deciding whether to lift her hold on the nomination when the Senate returns from recess after the November 2 congressional elections.

An environmental group questioned if enough had been done to prevent another rig explosion and spill like the one that took oil giant BP and the government months to contain.

"Deepwater oil drilling is intrinsically dangerous, as demonstrated by the BP spill, and it's surprising the federal government thinks it has so quickly resolved all the problems that contributed to the spill," said David Guest, an attorney for Earthjustice.

"We learned from this spill that we have only a tiny fraction of what's necessary to control deep water oil spills," Guest said in a statement. "While we've now got some new regulations that address technology and safety, the federal government still hasn't come up with any new regulations addressing oil spill response. We still don't have the equipment or technology to control or contain the oil from a major blowout in the Gulf."

Salazar noted that one reason for the moratorium was because resources needed to respond to the disaster were tied up with the BP spill. Now that the broken well has been capped, those resources are again available in case of another accident, he said.

The moratorium affected 36 operators, half of which were able to continue some level of work such as helping to dig relief tunnels that capped the broken well, Salazar said. Lifting the moratorium means applications for 18 exploratory wells can again move forward, providing they comply with the tougher new regulations and rules, he said.

"The policy position we've articulated today is that we're open for business," Salazar said. "We will be taking applications for drilling in the deep water and we'll be processing those applications under the road map ... created in the last six months."

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Sources: MSNBC, Youtube, Google Maps

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