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WSJ Editorial: Liberating the Gulf
October 13, 2010

Posted by Matt Dempsey Matt_Dempsey@epw.senate.gov

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The Wall Street Journal

Editorial :  Liberating the Gulf

But a drilling ban persists by other means

October 13, 2010

Link to Editorial

The Obama Administration yesterday ended its nearly six-month deep water drilling moratorium, a welcome reprieve for the Gulf of Mexico region. If only we could be sure the Administration won't re-impose the ban by other means.

The ban was always political overkill, intended to appease the antidrilling left. The Deepwater Horizon spill was a tragedy caused by an unlikely series of mistakes, but the Gulf drilling workforce has a stellar safety record on the whole. The nation's leading engineering experts-a group put forward by the National Academy of Engineering and consulted by the Interior Department-opposed the moratorium, arguing that it would be "counterproductive to long-term safety."

The economic damage has been severe and the ban is deeply unpopular in Gulf states. Lifting the moratorium now, before the election, removes one political headache for Democrats.

On the other hand, the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management continues to sit on drilling permits, and the shallow water industry estimates that 70% of its fleet will soon be idle. From the looks of yesterday's announcement, the same slow-roll may be facing deep water drillers. Interior Secretary Ken Salazar last month issued new deep water regulations in anticipation of ending the ban, and Bureau Director Michael Bromwich is saying it will take four to six weeks for his agency to ensure drillers have complied with those rules and inspected their platforms. Mr. Bromwich has told the industry he won't succumb to "political pressure" to speed up this process and that a slow rate of permit approvals is the "cost of improving safety."

Last month's new regulations include tougher equipment and certification standards, and Mr. Salazar warned yesterday that more rules are to come, though no one knows what those will be. Mr. Salazar refers to this guessing game as a "dynamic" regulatory environment. Deep water drillers, energy investors and rig operators have another name for it: uncertainty. A de facto moratorium is still an obstacle to job creation and more domestic energy production.

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