WASHINGTON (CN) – Interior Secretary Ken Salazar issued revised rules on Monday for the Obama administration’s six-month deepwater drilling moratorium in the Gulf of Mexico in response to a federal court action overturning the ban, introducing new suspensions that could last until Nov. 30.
“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,” Salazar said in a statement.
He instructed Michael Bromwich, director of the new Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, Regulation and Enforcement (BOEM) — the old Minerals Management Service — to issue new suspensions of deepwater drilling on the Outer Continental Shelf.
The new regulations apply to drilling operators that use underwater or surface blowout preventers. The deepwater drilling ban is based on drilling configurations and technology, such as the use of underwater blowout preventers, rather than specific water depths.
The May 28 moratorium, which was struck down in June by a federal judge in New Orleans, focused on water depth.
The ban does not include shallow-water drilling activities.
“Like the deepwater drilling moratorium lifted by the district court on June 22, the deepwater drilling suspensions ordered today apply to most deepwater drilling activities and could last through Nov. 30,” the Interior Department said.
“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.”
Salazar said the drilling “pause” will be in effect until oil and gas companies implement safety measures to reduce deepwater drilling risks. Also, in order to resume drilling, oil and gas companies must prove that they can shut down an “out-of-control well” and respond to an oil spill in the Gulf.
Salazar said allowing drilling to begin without new safety precautions “would pose a threat of serious, irreparable, or immediate harm or damage to the marine, coastal, and human environment.”
He requested an assessment of oil spill response resources and an analysis of the potential causes of the April 20 Deepwater Horizon drilling rig explosion. He asked BOEM to come up with interim safety rules for resuming drilling operations, and to conduct public hearings and industry discussions on safety issues.
The suspensions will last until Nov. 30 or until Salazar determines that deepwater drilling is safe.
“I remain open to modifying the new deepwater drilling suspensions based on new information,” Salazar said, “but industry must raise the bar on its practices and answer fundamental questions about deepwater safety, blowout prevention and containment and oil spill response.”