Last Thursday, President Obama announced changes to the Administration's offshore oil drilling policy. As fleshed out by Interior Secretary Ken Salazar and new Minerals Management Service head Bob Abbey, the details are far better than expected.
Yesterday, a new shallow water well was given a permit amid cries of "sellout! hypocrite! meaningless moratorium!" The moratorium never was meant to apply to shallow water drilling (despite a flurry of confusion earlier this morning). Even so, the policy -- some of which is a temporary moratorium, and some of which appears permanent -- deserves a solid B grade.
Last Thursday, Obama announced a six month moratorium and new regulations on deepwater drilling. The details are pretty good:
-- flat out canceling the "220" leases off Virginia's coast;
-- delaying until 2011 Shell's proposed exploratory leases in Alaska's Beaufort and Chukchi seas;
-- shutting down 33 wells currently being drilled in deepwater "at the first safe stopping point";
-- aggressive safety actions, including a recertification of all Blowout Preventers (BOPs) for floating drilling operations; stronger well control practices, blowout prevention and intervention procedures; tougher inspections for deepwater drilling operations; and expanded safety and training programs for rig workers;
-- and, according to the blog Rigzone, redefining deepwater from 1,000 feet to 500 feet and barring sidetrack or bypass wells. That last point may be critical.
Shortly after the April 30 moratorium was announced, observant eyes spotted a "Western Lease Sale 215" information page at the MMS website providing details for an August 2010 lease in the Western Gulf of Mexico. Now, that website links to the May 27 moratorium.
Wednesday night, MMS head Abbey announced more rules: "operators will be required to submit additional information about potential risks and safety considerations before being allowed to drill. The rule applies even to those plans that have already been approved or received a waiver exempting them from detailed environmental scrutiny."
One shallow-water permit was approved yesterday. However, the Republicans who usually stand with Big Oil are furious: Gov. Bobby Jindal is gravely concerned for deepwater jobs, David Vitter is whining for inspections instead of a moratorium, and Smokey Joe Barton is enabling industry's gripes. Another term for alienating Jindal and his cronies: good work.
The new policy will be tested soon, when BP plans an Arctic slant drilling operation. BP has not yet applied for permits.
What's left? Existing shallow water wells in the Gulf of Mexico and Alaska will continue to pump. Permits for shallow water will be given, but they'll be scrutinized. And in a little-noticed move, onshore drilling rules are also being reformed.
Is this the ship of state beginning a slow pivot away from fossil fuels and toward a clean energy future? Or is it a simple pause before going back to our same oiled, same oiled ways?