Oil Companies stop at nothing, Judge Overturns Drilling Moratorium

Stephen Smith | June 22, 2010 | Energy Policy
gulfshipsOn May 27th, with oil still gushing into the Gulf from the tragic BP disaster, President Obama finally flexed his executive authority to put a temporary halt on risky offshore drilling.  The President not only extended a six-month moratorium on new deepwater drilling in the Gulf and the Arctic, but also canceled the sale of offshore leases and halted activities of 22 rigs currently drilling in the Gulf.  His announcement came after  continuous scrutiny from fellow-Democrats and other Obama supporters for his administration’s mismanagement of the BP disaster.

Today, a federal judge in New Orleans overturned the President’s moratorium citing economic hardships to workers and businesses. In U.S. District Judge Martin Feldman’s opinion, “the blanket moratorium, with no parameters, seems to assume that because one rig failed and although no one yet fully knows why, all companies and rigs drilling new wells over 500 feet also universally present an imminent danger.” Almost immediately after the judge’s announcement, the White House said that they would appeal.

Press Secretary Gibbs stated that President Obama “strongly believes that continuing to drill at those depths without knowing what’s happened” in the April 20 explosion on the Deepwater Horizon drilling rig, which killed 11 workers and left an oil well gushing out of control, “makes no sense” and puts people’s lives at risk.

I agree 100% with the Administration. The judge’s decision is absurd and dangerous. The oil companies can not stop the leak, the assets of the United States are straining to stop the unfolding ecological damage and we still do not know the underlying cause of the events that have now become the worse drilling disaster in United States history.

In a long and well-researched story in the New York Times on June 21, reporters reviewed the amazing recent history of oil companies and their affiliates resisting efforts to strengthen safety standards in the key “fail safe” component  of the “blow out preventer” (BOP).  The “blind shear ram” is the critical “fail safe” BOP component that, in the event of an emergency, allows the rig operators to “cut” the pipe and block the flow of high pressure oil and gas coming up from the well. It failed in the Deepwater Horizon disaster and as the article spells out, it was well-documented that there are real concerns with this “fail safe” device going back more than 10 years.

This is exactly why we need a moratorium. “Fail safe” failed.

Governor Jindal of Louisiana and many companies associated with the oil industry have been criticizing the President’s plans for a moratorium for a month stating that it would devastate local economies.  In fact, Gov. Jindal wrote President Obama a letter arguing that “the last thing we need is to enact public policies that will certainly destroy thousands of existing jobs while preventing the creation of thousands more.” Senator David Vitter (R-La.) and Senator Mary Landrieu (D-La.) have also entered the ring, criticizing the moratorium.

“Our state and our way of life continue to be under attack from the devastating oil spill, and now to make matters worse, President Obama’s has imposed a moratorium and shut down drilling in the Gulf of Mexico. Unless we lift Obama’s moratorium, it could kill thousands of Louisiana jobs.” – Sen. Vitter

No Senator, the whole Gulf of Mexico is under attack from the devastating oil spill. The spill was cause by a culture of corruption between the regulator, the Mineral Management Service (MMS), and an industry that put profits over safety. Yes, some jobs are going to be impacted by the need to understand what happened and how to make sure it never happens again, but destroying the Gulf of Mexico is not a job we can afford. The same arrogance that lead to this disaster – by cutting corners on safety and blocking systems that could lower the chances of such a catastrophic event – has now resulted in the temporary success today in a Louisiana court. The larger take home message is that those associated with high risk oil drilling are will to stop at nothing to feed their addiction to money while feeding our addiction to oil.

Stephen Smith
Dr. Stephen A. Smith has over 35 years of experience affecting positive change for the environment. Since 1993, Dr. Smith has led the Southern Alliance for Clean Energy (SACE) as…
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