US Interior Secretary Ken Salazar [official profile] issued a new six-month drilling moratorium [text, PDF] on Tuesday, citing new evidence regarding safety concerns after the BP oil spill [BBC backgrounder; JURIST news archive]. Unlike the previously ordered moratorium, this one is not based on the depths at which drilling occurs. Instead, the moratorium affects drilling with specific technologies, although the applicable technologies are most often used during deepshore drilling and will not affect shallow water drilling operations. The new plan, the government says, offers more specifics on the types of drilling that will and will not be banned. In a press release [text], Salazar said that the new pause on deepwater drilling will provide time to implement recent safety reforms and for:
1. The submission of evidence by operators demonstrating that they have the ability to respond effectively to a potential oil spill in the Gulf, given the unprecedented commitment of available oil spill response resources that are now being dedicated to the BP oil spill;In this period, the government will also create interim safety rules in accordance with recommendations submitted to President Barack Obama in May and is supported by an "extensive record of existing and new information indicating that allowing new deepwater drilling to commence would pose a threat of serious, irreparable, or immediate harm or damage to the marine, coastal, and human environment." Government lawyers on Monday also asked the US Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit [official website] to lift its order barring the previous moratorium [opinion, PDF; JURIST report] because the new plan had been filed. The plaintiffs who sued to block the original moratorium said they have substantial concerns about the ban [AP report], but have not announced whether they will challenge it. Those against the moratorium argue that it will unnecessarily hurt the gulf economy [PBS video].
2. The assessment of wild well intervention and blowout containment resources to determine the strategies and methods by which they can be made more readily available should another blowout occur; and
3. The collection and analysis of key evidence regarding the potential causes of the April 20, 2010 explosion and sinking of the Deepwater Horizon offshore drilling rig, including information collected by the Presidential Commission and other investigations.
Last week, the Obama administration filed a brief asking the court to reinstate the original offshore drilling ban [JURIST report] after a district judge issued a preliminary injunction against the moratorium [opinion, PDF; JURIST report], saying it was necessary because the ban caused irreparable harm to both the plaintiffs - small oil companies affected by the ban - and the public. The US Department of Justice [official website] contended that the district judge abused his discretion [JURIST report] in issuing the injunction and that another deepwater spill could overwhelm the ongoing efforts to clean up the spill with catastrophic results. More than 120 million gallons of oil have leaked already from the rig's broken pipe and has now surpassed the Exxon Valdez oil spill [JURIST news archive] as the worst in US history.