A Stronger Moratorium On New Oil Drilling

On July 12, 2010, eighty-three days after BP’s Deepwater Horizon drilling rig blew up and killed 11 workers, Department of the Interior Secretary Ken Salazar issued his second moratorium on new drilling for oil on the U.S. Outer Continental Shelf in the Gulf of Mexico.  You can find Secretary Salazar’s Decision Memorandum here, and a Q and A prepared by the Department of the Interior here.  This new moratorium will last, at most, to November 30, 2010.

As most readers of this blog will know, in June, 2010, Secretary Salazar’s first moratorium on new offshore drilling was enjoined in court.  The judge in the case felt that the moratorium was not supported by the  30-day safety report on which it was based, and was particularly concerned about the basis for the moratorium’s differentiation of allowed and disallowed new wells depending on whether the well was shallower or deeper than 500 feet.

The second moratorium fixes both of these perceived problems.  First, it is solidly based on problems that are apparent to everyone who has been paying attention to the BP disaster:  the lack of ability of BP or another oil company to respond to another spill in the Gulf; the lack of expertise shown by BP to understand, much less implement, the “strategies and methods” by which “wild well and blowout containment resources” can be made available if there is another spill; and the lack of knowledge by BP and others about what caused the Deepwater Horizon to blow up. 

Second, there is no difference in treatment of a new well depending on its depth.  The new moratorium applies to all wells “using subsea blowout preventers (BOPs) or surface BOPs on a floating facility,” regardless of depth.

This is a strong step in the right direction.  In my view, it would be irresponsible, if not downright reckless, to allow new drilling to go forward before we know what happened on the Deepwater Horizon rig and before we are confident that another large spill can be contained.  I applaud Secretary Salazar for the necessary and thoughtful action he took today.