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US Lifts Ban on Deepwater Oil Drilling

The Obama administration on Tuesday lifted its moratorium on deepwater offshore drilling for oil and gas that was imposed after a massive Gulf of Mexico oil spill in April. The conditional ban is being lifted one month ahead of schedule.

A federal report says the drilling ban likely caused 8,000 to 12,000 people in the Gulf region to lose their jobs, at least temporarily.

The administration has been under intense pressure from political leaders and the oil industry to lift the ban.

But White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs told reporters Tuesday that the process of ending the ban was not accelerated for political reasons. "This was a very deliberative policy process. And it puts in place some important safety steps to insure that when this is done again, it is done safely," he said.

The ban was to expire on November 30, but Interior Secretary Ken Salazar said new rules imposed after the BP Gulf of Mexico spill have strengthened safety measures and made another catastrophic blowout much less likely.

Drilling companies must meet a series of new safety regulations before they can resume operations. One requirement is that the chief executive officer of a company responsible for a well must certify that the company has complied with all regulations. That could make the CEO liable for future accidents.

Companies must also prove that they have procedures in place to contain a worst-case scenario spill.

Gibbs says because of the new requirements, drilling will not resume immediately.

"It is probably going to take several weeks to ensure that everybody feels comfortable that we have the appropriate plans in place to ensure that we meet those worst-case scenarios. I think this is an important first step. It starts that process. It opens that process back up. It is an important day," he said.

The Deepwater Horizon oil rig that exploded April 20 off the coast of Louisiana caused the biggest offshore oil spill in history. The explosion killed 11 people, and spilled an estimated 757 million liters of oil into the Gulf of Mexico.

BP plugged the well two weeks ago and is expected to pay at least $32 billion in damages.