Continued from page 1

Mr. Salazar emphasized that the move would include new requirements for those seeking to drill exploratory wells. Those entities and the companies they represent will have to prove they have the appropriate steps in place to contain a worst-case scenario.

The new rules include many recommendations made in a report Mr. Salazar released in May, including requirements that rigs certify that they have working blowout preventers and standards for cementing wells. The cement process and blowout preventer both failed to work as expected in the BP spill.

The April 20 spill, which was triggered by an explosion that killed 11 people, dumped an estimated 200 million gallons of oil in the Gulf. BP killed the well last month and expects to eventually pay at least $32 billion to handle the cleanup and damage claims.

Under the new rules, a professional engineer must independently inspect and certify each stage of the drilling process. Blowout preventers — the emergency cutoff equipment designed to contain a major spill — must be independently certified and capable of severing the drill pipe under severe pressure.

Companies also will be required to develop comprehensive plans to manage risks and improve workplace safety.

Todd Hornbeck, CEO of Covington, La.-based Hornbeck Offshore Services, said lifting the moratorium would leave the industry in a “de facto moratorium stage” until the government fully explains how new drilling permits will be issued.

“We’re still in the dark,” said Mr. Hornbeck, who heads up one of the companies that sued to block Interior’s initial moratorium. His company provides vessels and other services for the offshore industry.

“The devil is in the details, as they say, and the industry hasn’t seen the final requirements for what we would have to do to be able to actually get a permit issued,” he added. “Until that is done, lifting the moratorium may be just a moot or perfunctory act. … Right now, I’m skeptical that it will be anytime soon that permits will be issued even if the moratorium is lifted.”

Billy Nungesser, president of the Plaquemines, La., parish and outspoken critic of the moratorium, said lifting the ban “would be great news. At a time when the future is still uncertain on how quickly the fishing and shrimping and all will come back, we could use some good news.”

Ensco Offshore, which owns and operates offshore drilling rigs, asked a federal judge last month to overturn the moratorium. U.S. District Judge Martin Feldman set a Tuesday deadline for legal briefs in the case, but has not said when he would rule.__

Associated Press writers Dina Cappiello and Julie Pace in Washington and Michael Kunzelman and Kevin McGill in New Orleans contributed to this story.