U.S. lifts freeze on deepwater oil drilling

In a July 28, 2010, file photo, the deepwater rig Noble Danny Adkins is seen from Interior Secretary Ken Salazar's helicopter as he arrives to tour the rig in the Gulf of Mexico, off the coast of Louisiana. The Obama administration, under heavy pressure from the oil industry and others in the Gulf Coast, on Tuesday, Oct. 12 2010, lifted the moratorium on deep water drilling that it imposed in the wake of the disastrous BP oil spill. (AP Photo/Gerald Herbert, File)In a July 28, 2010, file photo, the deepwater rig Noble Danny Adkins is seen from Interior Secretary Ken Salazar’s helicopter as he arrives to tour the rig in the Gulf of Mexico, off the coast of Louisiana. The Obama administration, under heavy pressure from the oil industry and others in the Gulf Coast, on Tuesday, Oct. 12 2010, lifted the moratorium on deep water drilling that it imposed in the wake of the disastrous BP oil spill. (AP Photo/Gerald Herbert, File)
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WASHINGTON (AP) — The Obama administration, under heavy pressure from the oil industry and others in the Gulf Coast, on Tuesday lifted the moratorium on deep water drilling that it imposed in the wake of the disastrous BP oil spill.

The six-month ban had been scheduled to expire Nov. 30, but Interior Secretary Ken Salazar said he was moving up that deadline because new rules imposed after the spill have strengthened safety measures and reduced the risk of another catastrophic blowout.

“The policy position that we are articulating today is that we are open for business,” Mr. Salazar told a press conference.

The action comes as a federal judge weighed a drilling company’s bid to overturn the moratorium.

It also comes less than a month before midterm elections in which Democrats face widespread criticism for overextending government actions on the economy, including the health care overhaul, the economic stimulus plan and the drilling moratorium.

A federal report said the moratorium likely caused a temporary loss of 8,000 to 12,000 jobs in the Gulf region.

While the temporary ban on exploratory oil and gas drilling is lifted immediately, drilling is unlikely to resume for at least a few weeks.

Drilling companies must meet a host of new safety regulations before they can resume operations — including a requirement that the CEO of the company responsible for the well certifies it has complied with all regulations. That could make the person at the top of the company liable for any future accidents.

“Operators who play by the rules and clear the higher bar can be allowed to resume,” Mr. Salazar said.

The secretary said he knows that some people in the oil industry and along the Gulf Coast will say the new rules are too onerous. “Others will say that we are lifting the deep water drilling suspension too soon. They will say there are still risks involved with deep water drilling,” he said.

The truth is, there will always be such risks, Salazar said. “As we transition to a clean energy economy,” he added, “we will still need oil and gas from the Gulf of Mexico to power our homes, our cars, our industry.”

The new rules imposed by the administration will make oil and gas drilling in the Gulf “safer than it has ever been,” Mr. Salazar said.

Rep. Charlie Melancon, Louisiana Democrat, called the end of the drilling ban great news for Louisiana’s economy and workers.

Louisiana Sen. Mary Landrieu, a Democrat, has blocked a Senate vote to confirm President Obama’s choice of Jacob Lew to head the Office of Management and Budget to protest the moratorium. She applauded the decision to lift the ban but said she would not release her hold on Mr. Lew.

“Today’s decision is a good start, but it must be accompanied by an action plan to get the entire industry in the Gulf of Mexico back to work,” Ms. Landrieu said, calling on the administration to accelerate permit approvals for drilling in shallow and deep water and provide greater certainty about regulations industry must meet.

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