White House Expects New Drilling Moratorium To Hold, But Conservatives Still Are Not Pleased

The Obama administration expects its new moratorium on deepwater oil and gas drilling to stand up in court where an earlier ban did not. But conservatives continue to rail against the temporary suspension.

Interior Secretary Ken Salazar on Monday announced a new suspension of deepwater drilling on the Outer Continental Shelf (OCS), saying a pause is needed to ensure that oil and gas companies first implement adequate safety measures to reduce the risks associated with deepwater drilling operations and are prepared for blowouts and oil spills.

The new drilling moratorium, prompted by the need to respond to the BP Gulf Coast oil disaster, follows an earlier six-month ban issued by the administration which was struck down in federal court.

The Obama administration wants to put a hold on deepwater drilling until the cause of the monster BP oil spill is known and addressed.

“More than 80 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,” Salazar says. “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 comes on the same day that the White House commission investigating the BP spill began its work by taking testimony in New Orleans.

White House press secretary Robert Gibbs says that he expects the new moratorium to stand up under any potential court challenge.

“I do think there was some misreporting off of the appeals court case from the end of last week,” he says. “The judge did not rule against our ability to prevent. The judge simply ruled that with no company seeking currently to actively drill in deepwater, that basically there — without — we did not — in a sense, we lacked standing for a ruling because the type of activity that we were looking to ban was not happening. But again, I think that the new moratorium that’s issued by [the Department of Interior] will take into account the original suit’s comments.”

Like the earlier temporary ban, the new moratorium could ban drilling through November 30.

“The suspensions ordered today, however, are the product of a new decision by the Secretary and new evidence regarding safety concerns, blowout containment shortcomings within the industry, and spill response capabilities that are strained by the BP oil spill,” a factsheet issued by Interior on the new moratorium says.

In addition, the May 28 moratorium, which was struck down, banned drilling based on specific water depths; the new decision does not suspend activities based on water depth, but on the basis of the drilling configurations and technologies, the factsheet adds.

Despite those differences, the new drilling suspension also drew fire from conservatives.

“The Administration’s plan to issue a new moratorium on domestic deepwater drilling will not help bring any certainty to the distressed Gulf economy now or in the foreseeable future,” says William O’Keefe, CEO of the conservative George C. Marshall Institute scientific think tank. “The Interior Department’s new ban will hinder America’s oil industry from making the long term plans and commitments necessary to continue operating in the gulf, which generates jobs and revenue for the economy.”

Gibbs acknowledges the potential for economic impact but that the magnitude of the BP spill demands a response to prevent further such spills.

“First and foremost, the President has and continues to believe that we have to be careful with what we’re doing given the uncertainty around what happened 84 days ago,” he says, referring to the initial April 20 explosion which triggered the spill. “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.”

The publisher of the news site On The Hill, Scott Nance has covered Congress and the federal government for more than a decade.

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