WASHINGTON— The Interior Department today announced new rules for offshore oil and gas operations intended to improve safety and environmental procedures. However, Interior has yet to deal with the fundamental problems that have plagued the offshore industry for years, including allowing projects to proceed without a full environmental review or compliance with laws to protect imperiled wildlife and sensitive ecosystems. Today’s announcement comes amid continued speculation that the Obama administration will lift its moratorium on deepwater drilling earlier than expected.
“The Department of the Interior should keep the drilling moratorium until there is full compliance with all environmental laws. In reality, Interior should be expanding it to include new drilling operations in shallow waters, which are just as dangerous,” said Kierán Suckling, executive director of the Center for Biological Diversity. “The safety measures announced today will certainly do some good but we can’t allow offshore drilling to return to business-as-usual without doing much, much more to ensure the safety of wildlife and the environment.”
Today’s rules require additional steps for safety and environmental procedures, and place an emphasis on blowout preventers and proper cementing of wells. Interior Secretary Ken Salazar has vowed a tougher stance on offshore drilling but has yet to require thorough environmental reviews for all offshore drilling operations.
“The same type of environmental waiver that was used to approve the BP’s disastrous Macondo well remains in place for shallow-water operations, which ought to be unacceptable to anyone who witnessed this year’s devastation from the Gulf oil spill,” said Suckling. “On top of that, the government is still approving hundreds of offshore rigs, leases, pipelines and seismic blasting without considering the terrible effects on rare sea turtles, sperm whales, dolphins and brown pelicans. This work can’t be allowed to move ahead without complying with bedrock environmental laws in this country, including the Endangered Species Act and the Marine Mammal Protection Act.”