Administration Imposes New Drilling Moratorium

Posted July 12, 2010 at 5:31pm

The Obama administration announced Monday a revised deep-water drilling moratorium based on “new evidence regarding safety concerns” in the aftermath of the BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico.

“A pause on deepwater drilling is essential and appropriate to protect communities, coasts and wildlife from the risks that deepwater drilling currently pose,” Interior Secretary Ken Salazar said in a statement. “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.”

The new moratorium, which could run through Nov. 30, comes on the heels of two court rulings against the administration’s efforts to impose a six-month ban. A federal judge threw out that moratorium last month for setting arbitrary limits, and the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in New Orleans declined to suspend the lower court’s order. The appeals court is expected to hear the administration’s appeal of the lower court ruling by late August.

The administration has tried to temporarily block deep-water drilling as the nation grapples with an ongoing oil leak in the Gulf caused by the April 20 explosion of a deep-water rig owned by BP.

White House spokesman Robert Gibbs said the revised ban, which applies to “any deep-water floating facility with drilling activities” instead of to a specific depth for drilling, addresses the legal concerns raised by the courts. “The president has and continues to believe that we have to be careful with what we’re doing, given the uncertainty about what happened 84 days ago,” Gibbs told reporters during a Monday briefing. “We know that that is not without some economic consequences to the region, but it’s imperative that we have a sense of what happened before we continue to do this again.”

Asked whether the administration believes this moratorium is substantially different and will stand up in court, he said: “Yes, we do. We do.”

Industry groups were less than pleased with the news of another ban, which they said would lead to more lost jobs.

“Despite two federal court rulings halting the moratorium on deep-water exploration, the administration is now proceeding with yet another blanket moratorium that will continue to cost the Gulf region much-needed jobs and America much-needed domestic oil and natural gas,” said Karen Harbert of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.

Daniel Kish of the Institute for Energy Research accused the administration of seeking a drilling moratorium based on “a political decision” and against the advice of engineers.

The ban is “nothing but a kick in the face to the hardworking men and women who have lost — and will continue to lose — their jobs as a result of this administration’s politically motivated actions,” he said.