The Obama administration, trying a new approach, is battling to maintain a moratorium on deep-water offshore drilling, despite two court setbacks and protests in the region that the work-stoppage will kill jobs.
Interior Secretary Ken Salazar
has issued a new moratorium
that is not based on water depth but rather on the type of rig or floating facility used for deep-sea drilling activities. If it survives legal scrutiny, the ban will remain in effect until Nov. 30. Salazar said evidence is growing "every day of the industry's inability in the deep water to contain a catastrophic blowout, respond to an oil spill, and to operate safely."
"More than 80 days into the BP oil spill, a pause in deep-water drilling is essential and appropriate to protect communities, coasts and wildlife from the risks that deep-water drilling currently pose," he added. Two federal courts ruled against an earlier moratorium that sought to ban any drilling deeper than 500 feet, with the most recent opinion coming last week
In the Gulf of Mexico on Tuesday, BP's newly installed cap was readied for testing to determine the condition of the blown-out well and gauge how much pressure it can withstand as the oil flow from beneath the sea floor is gradually stopped. "The measurements that will be taken during this test will provide valuable information about the condition of the well below sea level and help determine whether or not it is possible to shut the well down for a period of time, such as during a hurricane or bad weather," said retired Coast Guard Adm. Thad Allen, the national incident commander.
The testing could continue into Wednesday, Allen said, and when it is finished the collection of oil going up a pipeline to ships on the surface will resume. In the meantime, he said 46 skimmers are operating in the vicinity to try to contain the oil that began surging into Gulf waters after an April 20 explosion killed 11 workers and destroyed the Deepwater Horizon rig.
Even if all goes well, the oil company will continue drilling two relief wells designed to permanently shut down the leaking well. The first one, nearly 18,000 feet below the water's surface, should be completed in the next several weeks, BP says.