Obama Administration Preserves Moratorium on Offshore Drilling

Fallout from the BP Horizon oil spill has led the Obama administration to rescind the decision made earlier this year to allow the expansion of offshore drilling. Secretary of the Interior, Ken Salazar, announced that areas in the eastern Gulf of Mexico and along the Atlantic coast would be barred from further exploration for at least seven years. The moratorium is a direct result of the regulatory weaknesses uncovered after the BP oil spill.

Less than one month before the explosion and subsequent spewing of oil into the Gulf, the government had approved a plan to further explore potential sites in the Gulf of Mexico and all along the Atlantic coast from Delaware down to Florida. Waters off the eastern coast of the United States have been largely unexplored due to Congressional and environmental opposition.

The plan was launched as a compromise seeking increased domestic oil production in exchange for capping carbon dioxide emission levels. Salazar’s announcement reverses that original program. After the oil spill last summer the plan began disintegrating, and the Senate refused to work on climate change legislation.

Salazar said new safeguards would be implemented in existing drilling sites in western and central Gulf waters, but that future leases will require intense environmental and safety reviews. Salazar said “a number of lessons” had been learned due to the Deepwater Horizon disaster, and that “we need to proceed with caution and focus on creating a more stringent regulatory regime.”

Drilling sites in the Arctic will be subject to further studies before any more leases are permitted. A pending lease with Shell Oil will be honored after new spill response requirements are fulfilled and a new environmental review is completed. Shell estimates the new regulations could back up drilling plans for a year.

Environmentalists, who strongly opposed the original drilling plan, are pleased with the announcement. Pew Environment Group oceans expert, Marilyn Heiman, said the administration has learned valuable information from the Horizon blowout, “and they’re taking a lot of places off the table that originally were going to be considered.”

The oil industry, on the other hand, is calling the decision a big mistake. The American Petroleum Institute issued a statement praising the oil and gas industry as “a reliable vehicle for growing the economy and creating good-paying jobs.” Claiming the ban will increase foreign oil dependence, the group also argued that the moratorium would kill investment and “deny billions in revenue for critical government services.”