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Gulf oil: new explosion boosts support for moratorium

September 2, 2010 |  1:15 pm
Moratorium The new explosion on a gulf oil production platform Thursday revved up support for the Obama administration’s moratorium on deepwater drilling, just as oil companies were mounting an offensive against the measure.

“Today’s news comes as no surprise,” said Kieran Suckling, executive director of the Tucson-based Center for Biological Diversity. “Offshore drilling in the Gulf of Mexico is like playing Russian roulette. Its not a matter of if something will go wrong, it’s a matter of when.”

Rep. Henry A. Waxman (D-Beverly Hills), chairman of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, who has led a congressional investigation into the BP spill, called on the administration “to immediately redouble safety reviews of all offshore drilling and platform operations in the gulf.”

The Obama administration’s six-month moratorium on deepwater drilling did not affect the platform owned by Houston-based Mariner Energy Inc. where Thursday’s explosion occurred, spreading a mile-long sheen of oil across the Gulf.

That platform is in about 340 feet of water and about 100 miles south of Vermilion Bay on the central Louisiana coast. Its location is considered shallow water, much less than the roughly 5,000 feet where BP's well spewed oil and gas for three months after an April rig explosion

Oil companies have been battling the Obama administration in federal court to lift the moratorium, which idled several thousand Gulf Coast workers. Workers from Mariner were among 5,000 oil company employees that were bused to the Houston convention center on Wednesday to protest the moratorium.

Environmental groups have advocated a moratorium on shallow-water drilling as well as deepwater drilling until new safety procedures can be put in place. Thursday’s explosion “underscores the need for the U.S. to maintain its moratorium,” said Jacqueline Savitz, senior campaign director for Oceana, a Washington, D.C.-based nonprofit group. “We cannot tolerate further damage to the gulf and its irreplaceable ocean ecosystems.”

The administration has said it plans to keep the current moratorium in place until the end of November, but has been under pressure to lift it sooner.

Thursday’s accident builds pressure against an early reversal. “It’s time the government put all offshore oil and gas operations — whether they’re exploratory wells or production operations — on hold until we know they’re safe,” Suckling said. “The price we’ve already paid for BP’s Deepwater Horizon is too high. We cannot risk any more disasters.”

-- Margot Roosevelt

Photo: Tempers have been running high at oil-industry sponsored rallies against the deepwater drilling moratorium in the Gulf. At a July rally in New Orleans, T-shirts were given to the first 3,000 attendees. Credit: Rong-Gong Lin II