In what is turning out to be a legal battle, the Obama administration was dealt a setback today when a Federal judge in New Orleans lifted a six month moratorium on deepwater drilling imposed after the BP oil spill in April. The move was intended to study the safety of such operations, but a dozen companies sued to get the ban lifted, according to a report in Business Week.
The court, in issuing its opinion, said, “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.”
The federal government will file an appeal. The ban on the moratorium will likely be enforced, according to experts close to the case.
I can see both sides of the issue. The economy of the Gulf coast region is already at stake with a huge oil spill. Offshore platforms, for better or for worse, are a huge part of the economic structure of the area, and even more livelihoods are at stake. The sins of one oil company shouldn’t be transplanted onto the entire industry.
However, if there is the same safety issue involved with other deepwater drilling platforms, then there might be a case for shutting them all down. Perhaps we should liken this case to a food or toy recall. If a certain type of tomato is found to be getting the American population sick, we shouldn’t ban all tomatoes from stores until the cause is discovered. If a toy has lead paint on it, we shouldn’t remove all toys from the shelves.
Separation of Powers
Since the regulation of offshore drilling comes under the jurisdiction of the newly-named Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, Regulation, and Enforcement (formerly the Minerals Management Service), as a federal regulatory agency, they fall under the auspices of the executive branch. They have the right to enforce the regulations placed upon the offshore drilling platforms.
The six month ban on deepwater offshore drilling would have to be enforced by some regulation stipulated in the rules that govern that aspect of the Department of the Interior. The federal court in New Orleans states that there is no such precedent or cause for a six month moratorium.
Many people’s lives have been affected by the oil spill. There has been a halt to many incomes from fishing, drilling, and tourism. This lawsuit, and legal wrangling, is affecting other lives along the Gulf, and preventing more loss of economic activity in an already fragile recession.
In 2005, the Energy Information Administration said that natural gas and crude oil were found in more and more abundance in the deep waters of the Gulf, starting in 1995 and going up to 2003. They also estimate that there are a total of nearly 37 billion barrels of oil in the same region.
By the same token, gas prices have actually fallen since March 2010, according to the Fuel Gauge Report. In April, the national average for a gallon of gasoline was around $2.85 per gallon. In June, the average price was listed at $2.70. If crude oil is being produced less, how come gas prices have gone down?
We need to ask ourselves, what is the most important thing for this region now? Should we begin re-training oil rig operators to install wind turbines and solar panels? Should the region absolutely change its thinking, and shift its energy into other segments of the energy industry? Should we continue to drill, since we’re already there?
The answer lies in a layer of muck that has blackened the blue Gulf of Mexico.
Business Week and the U.S Government provided information for this article.