US Interior Secretary Ken Salazar [official profile] announced Tuesday the end of a six-month moratorium [press release] on certain types of deepwater oil drilling some seven weeks ahead of schedule. In a letter [text, PDF] issuing the order to Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, Regulation and Enforcement (BOEMRE) [official website] director Michael Bromwich [official profile], Salazar said that new drilling regulations enacted earlier this month [JURIST report] and industry safety strategies developed in the wake of the Deepwater Horizon spill [JURIST news archive] have reduced the likelihood of future incidents such that the ban is no longer needed, a decision he reached after reviewing an October 1 report [text, PDF] from the BOEMRE showing significant advancements in blowout prevention and safety standards. Salazar said that, while he is satisfied with recent progress, efforts to tighten safety regulations on deepwater drilling operations would continue:
We have more work to do in our reform agenda, but at this point we believe the strengthened safety measures we have implemented, along with improved spill response and blowout containment capabilities, have reduced risks to a point where operators who play by the rules and clear the higher bar can be allowed to resume. The oil and gas industry will be operating under tighter rules, stronger oversight, and in a regulatory environment that will remain dynamic as we continue to build on the reforms we have already implemented.As a precondition to resume drilling, the Department of the Interior (DOI) [official website] will require drillers to meet the new regulations and to sign a written commitment to implement superior blowout containment protections.
Last month, a federal judge denied [JURIST report] the government's motion to dismiss a lawsuit filed by several drilling companies challenging the offshore drilling moratorium. The judge held that there were "no substantial changes" between the July 12 directive and its predecessor, issued on May 28, that the new moratorium did nothing to amend or prevent the wrongs found in the first and that the wrongful behavior alleged in the original order could reasonably be expected to occur as a result of the more recent iteration. The US District Court for the Eastern District of Louisiana [official website] rejected a request to reinstate the May 28 ban in July, weeks after the US Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit similarly declined [JURIST reports]. The US Department of Justice (DOJ) [official website] originally asked the appeals court to stay the preliminary injunction [JURIST report] in June, on the basis that another deepwater spill could overwhelm the ongoing efforts to clean up the BP Deepwater Horizon oil spill with catastrophic results. Lawyers for the DOJ also claimed that the district judge abused his discretion in issuing the injunction.