Energy & Environment

Obama’s Stealth Moratorium on Shallow-Water Drilling

House Republicans are questioning the Obama Administration about why permits have not been re-issued to allow drilling to resume in shallow water in the Gulf of Mexico.

Rep. Bill Cassidy (R.-La.), at a House National Resources Committee hearing on Wednesday, sought questions about the de-facto drilling moratorium from Michael Bromwich, the new director of the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, who has only been on the job for eight days.
“There is a disconnect between what is being said by the administration and what we’re hearing from the industry,” Cassidy told HUMAN EVENTS at the hearing.

“What is said by the administration is, ‘No we’ve worked out everything that could be the least problematic — it’s just a question now of getting the process rolling again, but it’s going to go through.’ What we’re hearing from the industry is that indeed there’s a shifting set of regulations, that no one will make a decision, and that they’ve been unable to activate,” Cassidy said.

It’s been over a month since President Obama claimed there’s no moratorium on shallow-water drilling. In the wake of the Deepwater Horizon explosion, all drilling in the Gulf was halted. The President announced that shallow-water drilling would resume but that companies would be required to re-permit under new safety guidelines.

But no shallow-water drilling permits—with the exception of two which were quickly rescinded — have been granted since the drilling moratorium was first announced on May 6th.

“We’re told by the government that the de-facto moratorium doesn’t exist,” Cassidy said.“By industry, by workers, we’re told that it does.”

Rep. John Fleming (R.-La.) also spoke about the lack of new permitting.

“We had an informal discussion or hearing with Sec. Salazar about 10 days ago and raised this question. He said — I’m paraphrasing what he said — he said, I really don’t know what you’re talking about. Everything’s fine, we just had to add a couple more regulations and we’re good to go, shallow water shouldn’t be a problem,” Fleming told HUMAN EVENTS.

“But then you talk to the shallow-water drillers and they say they’re just sitting on hold. ‘We’re not getting permits. We’re not being allowed to go forward, we don’t know when we’ll go forward,’” Fleming said.

“I think this is part of the same old political manipulation and stalling tactics that is obviously part of this administration, just like this six-month moratorium,” Fleming added.

Wednesday’s House Natural Resources hearing was designed to enact new regulations on the oil and gas industry without first completing an oversight investigation into what went wrong at the Department of the Interior. Salazar left Wednesday’s hearing before one full round of questioning could take place.

Rep. Mike Burgess (R.-Tex.), top Republican on the House Energy and Commerce Oversight and Investigations subcommittee, said that the House is in the process of marking up legislation to craft new regulations without first conducting the oversight hearings.

Burgess told HUMAN EVENTS that his House subcommittee was already drafting legislation to enact new regulations on blowout preventers before an oversight investigation into the oil spill is completed.

“Without having the results of the investigation, we somehow are going to be able to intuit how to fix the problem, and it’s preposterous,” Burgess said. “Ostensibly we’re going to prevent this from happening again when we don’t know what caused it to happen in the first place.”

Courtney Kemp, one of the widows of a worker killed in the Deepwater Horizon explosion, told Burgess and others during a recent hearing in Chalmette, La., that the accident was the result of neglect.

“I am not here today to suggest that Congress implement more safety regulations, but rather to encourage you to hold companies accountable for safety regulations already in place and merely neglected,” Kemp said.

Natalie Roshto, another of the widows, also blamed the explosion on the lack of enforcement.

“After all the safety schools, meetings, fire drills and safety regulations I just knew he was safe,” Roshoto said. “We need to focus on making safety the most important priority. Not to focus on making more safety regulations, but on ways to effectively implement and use the ones already in place.”

“We’re having all of these hearings where we’re writing bills and it could have been prevented with existing regulations if somebody had just opened their eyes and looked,” Burgess said.

Timeline

A timeline provided by a House Republican staff member shows the progression of events:

April 20 — The Deepwater Horizon rig exploded in the Gulf of Mexico.

April 22 — Following the fire and explosion, the rig sank 130 miles southeast of New Orleans.

May 6 — Without public review, Ken Salazar, secretary of the Department of the Interior (DOI), announced an immediate moratorium on the approval of all offshore oil and gas drilling permits until the completion of an offshore safety review.

May 26 — Salazar met with Gulf Coast senators and staff and with shallow-water drilling industry executives to discuss the need to lift the moratorium on shallow water drilling operations.

May 28 — Following the DOI safety review, and with the support of many members of Congress, the administration lifted the offshore moratorium for shallow-water drilling operations in 500 feet of water or less where the “blowout preventer” is located above the surface.

May 31 – The Minerals Management Service’s (MMS) Gulf of Mexico Regional Office confirmed the approval for two shallow-water drilling permits. Shortly thereafter, those permits were revoked.

June 2 – An Interior Department press release said that the shallow-water drilling moratorium was lifted, but that such drilling operations must “satisfy new safety and environmental requirements.”

June 3 — President Obama publicly stated that “the [offshore drilling] moratorium has not extended to the shallow waters.”

June 8 – The Interior Department issued a Safety “Notice to Lessees” (NTL) which imposed stronger safety requirements to be met before any new shallow-water drilling operations would be permitted. The shallow-water drilling industry sought clarification concerning the implementation of the Safety NTL.

June 11 – Shallow-water drilling industry executives, with congressional participation, met with the acting MMS director to seek clarification of the Safety NTL. MMS addressed the industry concerns, and advised that written clarification would be provided.

June 18 — MMS provided written clarification concerning the Safety NTL. Additionally, a “second NTL” memo was issued applicable to the filings for new drilling permits, exploration plans or development plans. No new permits have yet been filed under the new guidelines.

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