This week the Obama administration allowed thirteen companies to return to their offshore oil drilling operations in the Gulf of Mexico without further environmental scrutiny despite having stated in August that drilling would not resume in the Gulf until stricter environmental reviews were made of all oilrig operations. Their latest announcement will allow companies to return to offshore drilling projects that had begun without environmental surveys as long as they were already underway when the gulf oil spill happened last spring. The oil companies in question will not need to do more exploratory environmental surveys if they had already been approved, but they will be expected to comply with new stricter rules under the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, Regulation and Enforcement.
“For those companies that were in the midst of operations at the time of the deepwater suspensions (last spring), today’s notification is a significant step toward resuming their permitted activity,” said Michael Bromwich, director of the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, Regulation and Enforcement (BOEMRE). The Obama administration placed a moratorium on offshore drilling last year and lifted the ban in October when drilling resumed except in waters deeper than 500 feet in the Gulf of Mexico. However, the administration promised strict reviews of those projects before they went back to business. Companies will still have to go through a quick review process with BOEMRE (which replaced the defunct Minerals Management Service and upped the ante on safety regulations) before resuming drilling so the agency can make sure they will follow the new rules.
The only reason the thirteen companies will have to back-step to do a thorough environmental survey of their practices — even if, in some cases, their operation had been approved without an environmental survey in the first place — is if an up-to-date assessment of the most oil that could be released in a uncontrolled spill is higher than what they had previously told BOEMRE. If that amount is indeed higher more reviews will be conducted. However, if the estimate is lower, no more reviews will be done. That, it seems, is the hitch. The Obama administration promised the public that they would dig deep into all of these drilling operations before they went back to work to ensure another Deepwater Horizon disaster does not happen. Though they will apply the new strict environmental reviews on any new drilling, it seems with these thirteen companies they are content to just cross their fingers.