Friday, May 28, 2010

Obama extends ban on deepwater well drilling to six months

WASHINGTON - Escalating his administration's response to the disastrous Gulf oil spill, President Obama on May 27 announced a new six-month moratorium on deepwater oil drilling permits while a presidential commission investigates the Deepwater Horizon accident.
Obama on May 22 appointed a presidential commission to conduct a wide-ranging, six-month investigation of the causes of the ongoing oil spill in the U.S. Gulf. He traveled to the Gulf Coast on May 28, his second visit to Louisiana since the accident.
BP PLC’s latest effort to cap the blowout, an attempt begun on May 26 to plug the mile-deep well with heavy drilling mud, a tactic never before tried at such depths, was still under way as Obama left Louisiana on May 28.
The “top kill” maneuver's success would prove enormously welcome to the Gulf region if successful, and also to the White House, Congress, federal agencies and other institutions that share responsibility for oversight, regulation and what went wrong.
As Obama left the state, no announcement was forthcoming from BP regarding the success of the “top kill” attempt. An announcement on the success or failure was not expected until at least the morning of May 30.
Under the new ban, controversial lease sales off the coast of Alaska will be delayed pending the results of the new commission's investigation, and lease sales planned in the Western Gulf and off the coast of Virginia will be canceled, an aide to the president said on May 27.
Shell Oil was poised to begin exploratory drilling this summer on Arctic leases as far as 140 miles offshore.
Those steps, along with new oversight and safety standards also to be announced, are the results of a 30-day safety review of offshore drilling already conducted by Interior Secretary Ken Salazar at Obama's direction. Salazar briefed Obama on that inquiry’s conclusions on May 26 in the Oval Office.
The new announcements could be an early sign of a fundamental shift in the administration's policies on offshore drilling, which Obama promoted and hoped to expand prior to the April 20 explosion and ultimate destruction of the Deepwater Horizon drilling rig. The accident killed 11 people and unleashed a gusher of crude that has begun to wash up on land and cripple seabirds.
While the new regulatory oversight steps are being taken before the exact causes of the accident have been determined, congressional investigators have released details suggesting BP ignored warning signs of instability in the exploratory well they were attempting to cap when the explosion occurred.
At the Capitol on May 27, lawmakers grilled various officials at five separate congressional hearings. Topics included the Gulf spill's environmental damage, the administration's response and the impact of the catastrophe on small businesses.
On May 26, Salazar told the House Natural Resources Committee that lax oversight of oil companies dates to the administration of Republican President George W. Bush.
"Essentially whatever it is they wanted is what they got," Salazar said.
GOP Rep. Doug Lamborn of Colorado asked when Obama's team would stop blaming problems on an administration that left office 16 months ago. Salazar replied that the federal Minerals Management Service, while heavily criticized lately, is still not "the candy store of the industry, which you and others were a part of."

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