The Obama administration on Tuesday lifted its moratorium on oil and gas drilling in the deep waters of the Gulf of Mexico, potentially blunting a serious political issue in the weeks before the midterm congressional election and signaling its confidence in newly tightened regulation.
"There has been significant progress over the last few months in enhancing the safety of future drilling operations, and in addressing some of the weaknesses in spill containment and oil spill response," Michael Bromwich, director of the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, Regulation and Enforcement, said in announcing the moratorium's end. "More needs to be done," he said, "but we believe the risks of deepwater drilling have been reduced sufficiently to allow drilling under existing and new regulations," Los Angeles Times reports.
Thirty-three deep water operations were halted by the moratorium imposed as the BP oil disaster unfolded. Meeting new federal safety requirements imposed since then will take time for oil companies.
"Those big rigs that left the Gulf, it's going to take them a while to come back," said Ronnie Kennier, an Empire, La., fisherman working in BP's vessel of opportunity oil clean-up program.
The ban had been scheduled to expire Nov. 30, but Interior Secretary Ken Salazar moved up the deadline, saying new rules have strengthened safety and reduced the risk of another catastrophic blowout that caused more than 200 million gallons of crude to spew from BP's well a mile beneath the Gulf.
A federal report said the prohibition likely caused a temporary loss of 8,000 to 12,000 jobs in the Gulf region and drilling is unlikely to resume for at least a few weeks, according to The Associated Press.