Salazar Turns Gulf Oil Spigot Back On

Deepwater moratorium ends just weeks after BP's spill stopped

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Only days before BP’s oil well blew in the Gulf of Mexico, Interior Sec. Ken Salazar was on the Gulf Coast wearing a 10-gallon cowboy hat and preaching the good news about oil drilling in the Gulf. Soon after his sermon, Salazar was eating those words, hat in hand, as millions of gallons of oil flooded coastal waters.

Well, today, the hat’s back on and assurances are flowing. Salazar has lifted the moratorium on deepwater drilling in the Gulf just weeks after the BP well was officially shut down. Recall that President Obama imposed the moratorium as oil gushed uncontrollably and as revelations poured forth about scandal, duplicity and outright incompetence within the oil industry and the government regulatory system.

Salazar thinks he’s fixed what ails the system by renaming the errant agency (from "Minerals Management Service" to "Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, Regulation and Enforcement") and carving it into three; and by issuing tough new regulations. In truth, these are good moves, but they don’t add up to a cure of the fundamental problem: deepwater drilling itself.

"Deepwater drilling is intrinsically dangerous," observes Earthjustice attorney David Guest, who is our frontline attorney in dealing with Gulf oil spill issues. David is flummoxed that the federal government is preparing to turn the spigot back on only weeks after BP’s was finally turned off. Says David:

It’s surprising the federal government thinks it has so quickly resolved all the problems that contributed to the spill. Drilling for oil in deep water requires operating machines and equipment at their outer limits and pushes drillers to the outer edge of their ability to manage the technology.

We learned from this spill that we have only a tiny fraction of what’s necessary to control deepwater oil spills. While we’ve now got some new regulations that address technology and safety, the federal government still hasn’t come up with any new regulations addressing oil spill response. We still don’t have the equipment or technology to control or contain the oil from a major blowout in the Gulf. They still aren’t saying what skimmers, what dispersants, and what other equipment and technology is needed to deal with the next spill.

From 2006–2014, Terry was managing editor for Earthjustice's blog, online monthly newsletter and print Earthjustice Quarterly Magazine.