- The Washington Times - Friday, October 15, 2010

The Obama administration has announced the end of its ban on oil drilling in the Gulf. “We are open for business. … We have made, and continue to make, significant progress in reducing the risks associated with deep-water drilling,” chimed Interior Secretary Ken Salazar on Tuesday. This is nothing but empty campaign-season rhetoric because oil companies still can’t resume drilling.

“It will clearly not be tomorrow, and it will not be next week,” Michael R. Bromwich, director of the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, Regulation and Enforcement, clarified last week. “My sense is we will have permits approved by the end of the year, but how much before the end of the year I can’t say, and how many before the end of the year I can’t say.”

So the secretary says there’s an “open” sign on Interior’s front door and oil companies can line up to purchase new drilling permits, while his department’s regulatory enforcer has a vague “sense” permits might be handed out by the end of December. This is bureaucratic doublespeak - the moratorium is lifted, but it’s not. The oil industry can be forgiven if its enthusiasm for this change is underwhelming.

Since the drilling ban was imposed after BP’s Deepwater Horizon explosion in April, about three dozen drilling rigs have been idled in the Gulf of Mexico. The owners of five moved their rigs to Africa. As a result, as many as 12,000 workers have been laid off in a region already hit hard by the economic impact of the oil spill itself. As many as 175,000 industry employees remain at risk as long as oil drilling is hampered by government sanctions.

Although the moratorium only applied to rigs drilling at depths of 500 feet or greater, bureaucrats also clamped down on approval of shallow-water drilling projects. Just 12 permits were issued after the Gulf spill, according to Jim Noe, executive director of the Shallow Water Energy Security Coalition. Not helping are the radical environmentalists who’ve expressed outrage that the Obama administration is even contemplating renewed drilling in the Gulf. “This is pure politics of the most cynical kind,” Greenpeace protested. “It is all about the election season, not safety and environmental concerns.”

With our economy hobbled and unemployment stuck around 10 percent, the drilling ban cannot end soon enough. The Interior secretary’s happy talk aside, the moratorium is not over. President Obama’s drilling ban ends the day the first drill bit hits mud at the sea bottom.

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