US tightens oil drilling rules following Gulf disaster

Resumption and expansion of deep-water drilling across the Gulf of Mexico will be more costly and time-consuming for oil companies such as BP as a result of changes the Obama administration ordered Monday.

Interior Secretary Ken Salazar announced that environmental impact statements will now be required for all new deep-water drilling under U.S. jurisdiction and existing operations will be subjected to a new environmental analysis of the entire Gulf that will “help provide information to guide future leasing and development decisions.”

“In light of the increasing levels of complexity and risk – and the consequent potential environmental impacts – associated with deep-water drilling, we are taking a fresh look” at the National Environmental Protection Act process “and the types of environmental reviews that should be required for offshore activity,” Salazar announced.

“Our decision-making must be fully informed by an understanding of the potential environmental consequences of federal actions permitting offshore oil and gas development.”

Deep-water drilling is on hold as a result of a temporary moratorium ordered by President Barack Obama in the wake of the April 20 explosion of the Deepwater Horizon oil rig that killed 11 workers and poured millions of gallons of crude oil into the Gulf before BP capped the runaway well on July 15.

The Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, Enforcement and Regulation, which has taken over some oversight functions from the discredited Minerals Management Service, will rely upon the additional requirements to hold offshore operators “accountable and ensure that the industry and the country are fully prepared to deal with catastrophic blowout and oil spills like the Deepwater Horizon,” added Michael Bromwich, director of the regulatory agency.

The agency will exempt oil drilling companies from environmental requirements “on a more limited basis,” Brom- wich said, adding that administration officials “intend to subject more decisions t o environmental assessments.”
Old standards

The action by the administration followed a 41-page report by the White House Council of Environmental Quality that concluded that BP had won the go-ahead to drill the Macondo well in 2009 based on environmental exemptions granted by federal authorities in 1981 and 1986 – a generation before development and deployment of new technologies that have enabled exploration at the 5,000-foot depth of the Deepwater Horizon.

MMS also had “identified significant catastrophes” such as the Ixtoc-I well blowout in Mexican waters in 1979 that leaked as much as 30,000 barrels of oil per day for nine months but had not included that disaster in its 2009 assessment of BP plans for the Macondo well “as part of the spill probability analysis because it occurred outside U.S. waters,” the White House report found.

BP had no immediate comment on the report or Salazar’s action.
Wants more

House Natural Resources Committee Chairman Nick Rahall, D-W.Va., said Salazar’s efforts are not enough.

“I applaud Secretary Salazar for the steps he is taking, but permanent reform requires passage of my CLEAR Act, which would put the last nail in the coffin to the practice of allowing Big Oil to jam through offshore drilling projects with minimal review,” Rahall said.
Source: Houstin Chronicle

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