By MATTHEW DALY, Associated Press Writer
WASHINGTON – The Obama administration is blocking all new offshore drilling in the Gulf of Mexico, a day after regulators approved a new permit for drilling in shallow water.
An e-mail Thursday from the Gulf Coast office of the Minerals Management Service says that “until further notice” no new drilling is being allowed in the Gulf, no matter the water depth. A copy of the e-mail was obtained by The Associated Press.
The announcement comes a day after the minerals agency, which oversees offshore drilling, granted a new drilling permit for a site about 50 miles off the Louisiana coast, 115 feet below the ocean surface. Environmental groups accused the administration of misleading the public by allowing work to resume in waters up to 500 feet deep while maintaining a moratorium on deepwater drilling.
Kendra Barkoff, a spokeswoman for Interior Secretary Ken Salazar, denied that the administration was placing a hold on shallow-water drilling.
“There is a six-month moratorium on deepwater drilling,” Barkoff said in an e-mail Thursday. “Shallow-water drilling may continue as long as oil and gas operations satisfy the environmental and safety requirements Secretary Salazar outlined in his report to the president and have exploration plans that meet those requirements. There is no moratorium on shallow water drilling.”
Bob Abbey, the acting director of the Minerals Management Service, announced further restrictions for offshore drilling on Wednesday night.
Abbey, who took over the minerals agency last week after the forced resignation of its previous director Elizabeth Birnbaum, said operators will be required to submit additional information about potential risks and safety considerations before being allowed to drill. The rule applies even to those plans that have already been approved or received a waiver exempting them from detailed environmental scrutiny, Abbey said.
The new information must be submitted before any drilling of new wells begins, Abbey said, adding that the rule should ensure that tighter safety standards and better consideration of risks are incorporated into drilling plans.
The administration will establish separate requirements for deep water and shallow water exploration, Abbey said.
In a recent letter, Gulf Coast senators urged President Barack Obama to allow shallow-water drilling to continue, arguing that it is far safer than deepwater exploration. The senators said shutting down the roughly 60 shallow-water rigs in the Gulf could cost some $135 million in revenues and affect at least 5,000 jobs.
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