Prospects for Offshore Drilling Diminish in Wake of Oil Spill

Administration and oil industry continue feud over moratorium

In the wake of the BP disaster in the Gulf, people are changing their views on offshore drilling.

In part three of a four-part series on how the BP oil spill is affecting the Gulf region, BlackEnterprise.com addresses the outlook for offshore drilling.

In the wake of the BP oil disaster, 52% of Americans oppose offshore drilling compared to just 31% in February, a Pew Research Center survey has found. Some lawmakers also are revising their views on this controversial issue. Rep. G.K. Butterfield (D-North Carolina), a member of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, said that before the BP blowout, he’d begun warming to the idea of drilling as a way to reduce the nation’s dependence on foreign oil.

“Now we have to start from the beginning and rethink whether or not we want to authorize offshore drilling,” said Butterfield. “Maybe we need to invest more in renewable energy and look at the opportunity that nuclear energy provides.” Meanwhile, the oil industry can expect a great deal more scrutiny of their operations.

• Related Reading: Gulf Coast Small Businesses Worried About Their Futures

BP was finally able to stop the flow of oil into the Gulf of Mexico on Thursday, 85 days after the Deepwater Horizon explosion and after more than 180 millions gallons of oil have surged into the region.

Also Thursday, a House panel approved a bill to overhaul the government agency responsible for regulating offshore drilling. The bill would divide the agency into three parts: one for leasing and permitting; another for inspections and investigations; and a third to collect revenue, according to the Associated Press.

A federal appeals court in New Orleans on July 8 denied the Interior Department’s request to reinstate a six-month deepwater drilling moratorium that the agency had instituted in May. The moratorium suspended drilling on 33 wells, canceled approval of proposed and pending permits in the Gulf and Virginia, and suspended proposed drilling in the Arctic while an independent panel conducts a safety study. Oil industry service providers and workers in Gulf communities say the moratorium is costing millions in lost revenues and jobs, but the administration will appeal the decision on Aug. 30. It announced a revised moratorium on July 12 that would last through Nov. 30.

“I am basing my decision on evidence that grows every day of the industry’s inability in the deepwater to contain a catastrophic blowout, respond to an oil spill, and to operate safely,” said Interior Secretary Ken Salazar.

According to Melinda Pierce, deputy director of national campaigns for the Sierra Club, provisions to expand drilling that have been floating around Capitol Hill have come to an abrupt halt. Her organization is trying to reinstate a 25-year moratorium on drilling in the Atlantic and Pacific coasts that lapsed two years ago.

Pierce believes that the oil spill should be a wakeup call to Americans to take more seriously the need for alternative energy sources and the Sierra Club has seen a lot of renewed attention to activism on the issue.

“Clearly folks see the tremendous costs and risks associated with our dangerous and large dependence on the development of fossil fuels,” Pierce said. “We hope that means there will be greater receptivity and desire to incentivise and transition to cleaner renewable energy sources.”

More in the series:
Gulf Coast Small Businesses Worried About Their Futures
Oil Spill May Hasten Deterioration of Louisiana’s Ecosystem

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