WASHINGTON (Reuters) – President Barack Obama’s administration issued a new six-month moratorium on deepwater oil drilling in the Gulf of Mexico, replacing an earlier ban that had been struck down by US courts as being too broad.
Interior Department Secretary Ken Salazar announced the new drilling ban that will suspend most deepwater activities, just as the initial plan intended.
The oil industry, caught in a legal tug-of-war, and will have to keep its rigs idled in the Gulf of Mexico because of the moratorium which followed the April 20 rig explosion that ruptured an undersea oil well owned by BP Plc and caused the worst oil spill in US history.
The government’s original drilling ban shut down 21 rigs and the same rigs will not be able to operate under the revised moratorium.
In an attempt to avoid additional legal challenges, the agency also said that the new drilling ban will be based on the type of equipment being used and not solely the depth of the water, as in the first moratorium.
“More than eighty days into the BP oil spill, a pause on deepwater drilling is essential and appropriate to protect communities, coasts, and wildlife from the risks that deepwater drilling currently pose,” said Interior Secretary Ken Salazar.
Salazar said the industry could not deal with another spill because most of the clean-up equipment is being used in BP’s massive spill.
Under the agency’s revised plan, oil drilling in shallow waters can continue if companies are in compliance with new safety and environmental rules. Existing deepwater offshore platforms producing oil and gas are not affected by the new order.
The Obama administration may have another tough legal battle with the energy companies that have sued to get the original drilling suspension lifted.