The Obama administration said yesterday it was toughening environmental reviews for all new deepwater oil drilling to make it more difficult for companies to drill in waters like the Gulf of Mexico with little federal scrutiny.
The step is aimed to help set right a history of lax oversight that led to the 20 April explosion that killed 11 workers and caused one of the worst spills in US history. About 206 million gallons of oil gushed out of the leaking Macondo well into the Gulf before BP stopped the leak.
According to a report of the White House Council on Environmental Quality, decades-old data provided the basis for exemption of BP's drilling permits from any extensive environmental review.
Now, the Interior Department has banned such "categorical exclusions" for deepwater drilling reviews, at least until the grant of exemptions is fully probed.
"Our decision-making must be fully informed by an understanding of the potential environmental consequences of federal actions permitting offshore oil and gas development," Interior Secretary Ken Salazar said in a statement.
At present, new deepwater drilling is not allowed in the Gulf, but once the moratorium is lifted, though, the Interior Department is likely to put in place a more thorough process for clearing drilling proposals which is expected to make it more time-consuming for oil companies to move forward with new deepwater projects with mandatory environmental assessments along the way.