With BP spill under control, US looks at drill ban

Aug 15th, 2010 | By admin | Category: Featured

Now that the worst offshore oil spill in U.S. history has effectively been stopped, the White House is considering an early end to its moratorium on deepwater drilling.

But four months after the explosion of the Deepwater Horizon, regulators have only started to make good on promises to overhaul drilling. Tough measures are stalled in Congress. A $1 billion emergency response network proposed by the industry won’t be operational for another year.

And while doomsday scenarios from the BP spill, like oil washing up the East Coast, have not come to pass, there are no guarantees that drilling will be any safer once it does resume.

What’s changed is “not enough to make a big difference,” said Charles Perrow, a Yale professor who has studied the spill in the Gulf.

Interior Secretary Ken Salazar has halted deepwater drilling until Nov. 30, saying the BP spill demonstrated the industry wasn’t prepared for a massive underwater blowout. He’s ordered rigs to re-examine their equipment and safety procedures, and next month plans to order new safeguards for blowout preventers.

Before drillers can return to the deep water, however, Salazar said the industry should be able to show that it’s capable of responding to and containing future blowouts.

Some energy experts, engineering consultants and Gulf Coast leaders joined Big Oil to ask Salazar to change his mind. Drilling was safe before the BP spill, they said, and Gulf communities that depend on the industry were suffering unfairly.

That argument appears to have gained traction, even among people most affected by the spill, now that BP is close to plugging the well for good.

Billy Nungesser, president of hard-hit Plaquemines Parish, La., said he’s seen attitudes change in his community now that the deepsea disaster is easing. Even though oil has been washing ashore for months and he’s fought constantly with BP and the government over their response, Nungesser thinks the ban should be lifted. Offshore drilling means jobs.

According to the most recent state data, the oil and gas industry supports more than 320,000 jobs in Louisiana and generates more than $12.7 billion in household earnings.

George Hirasaki, a Rice University engineering professor who was involved in the oil containment effort in the Bay Marchand field off Louisiana after a rig burned in the early 1970s, agrees.

“I think what is needed is improved standards and procedures, and not just restrictions on drilling,” Hirasaki said.

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