Controversial Salazar 'Moratorium' on Gulf Drilling Was Only Verbal

For Immediate Release

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Kieran Suckling (520) 275-5960

Controversial Salazar 'Moratorium' on Gulf Drilling Was Only Verbal

Gov. Prof: 'so ridiculous that it defies understanding;' Law Prof: 'moratorium does not even cover the dangerous drilling that caused the problem in the first place'

SAN FRANCISCO - In response to a scandal created by Center for
Biological Diversity
research demonstrating that the Minerals Management Service (MMS)
approved 19
new drilling plans ­after
the
explosion of BP's Deepwater Horizon-all with exemptions from
environmental review-Secretary of Interior Ken Salazar announced on May
6, 2010, a moratorium on the issuance of final permits for "any new
offshore drilling activity."

Since then, the Department of Interior, and
President Obama himself,
has repeatedly changed the definition of the increasingly controversial
moratorium
as ongoing Center research has shown that the agency was still issuing
new
drilling permits. The moratorium description has become steadily
narrower as
the Interior Department changes it to exclude whatever drilling permits
MMS issues
on any given day.

As currently defined, the moratorium is so
narrow it allows continued
issuance of the exact drilling permit type that BP was operating under
when the
Deepwater Horizon exploded.

Daniel J. Rohlf, a law professor
at Lewis
& Clark Law School, told the New
York
Times
last week that he was losing confidence that Salazar
was
capable of instituting needed offshore drilling reforms since  "(t)he
moratorium does not even cover the dangerous drilling that caused the
problem
in the first place."

"Under pressure from the oil
industry
and an agency he seems incapable of controlling, Secretary Salazar has
watered
down the drilling moratorium to a point where it is virtually
meaningless,"
said Kieran Suckling, executive director of the Center for Biological
Diversity.

"He seems more interested in
political
damage control than ensuring the Gulf of Mexico is protected from
another oil
industry explosion," said Suckling. "Salazar's so-called
moratoriums and reforms are little more than rhetorical dispersants
designed to
breakup and hide the political scandal threatening to wash up on his
shore."

Yesterday, Interior spokespeople
revealed
why the "moratorium" has changed so often and caused so much
confusion: it does not exist in writing. In keeping with the lax
environmental
oversight he allowed to rein at MMS, Secretary Salazar never
communicated his
moratorium to the agency in writing.

New York University Government
Professor,
Paul Light, told NPR yesterday that a verbal moratorium is "so
ridiculous
that it defies understanding. It could not be more important to
enforce this moratorium and make absolutely clear to the oil industry
what is
and is not permissible. And yet you have the execution of a critical
order that
appears to have been basically done through the most casual way possible
under
federal law."

Secretary Salazar himself became
the victim
of his confused, shifting sands moratorium when he falsely told Congress
that
it stopped all new drilling in the Gulf of Mexico. Interior spokes
people told
NPR that "the Secretary misspoke at the hearing."

Background

Salazar's 5-6-10
press release
announcing the moratorium says:

"In a media availability after the meeting,
Secretary Salazar
announced that, as a result of the Deepwater Horizon explosion and
spill, beginning
April 20 - the date of the explosion - no applications for drilling
permits will go forward for any new offshore drilling activity
until the Department
of the Interior completes the safety review process that President Obama
requested. In accordance with the President's request, the Department
will
deliver its report to the President by May 28, 2010. The only exceptions
to the
new rule regarding permit approvals are the two relief w ells that are
being
drilled in response to the Deepwater Horizon disaster."

His 5-7-10
press release
says the same thing:

"Offshore Drilling Permit Applications Halted

Secretary Salazar announced that, as a result
of the Deepwater Horizon
explosion and spill, beginning April 20-the date of the
explosion-no applications for drilling permits will go forward for any new offshore
drilling activity

until the Department of the Interior completes the safety review process
that
President Obama requested. In accordance with the President's request,
the Department will deliver its report to the President by May 28. The
only
exceptions to the new rule regarding permit approvals are the two relief
wells
that are being drilled in response to the Deepwater Horizon disaster."

When confronted with the fact that MMS has
issued 17 new drilling
permits since April 20th, Interior spokespeople inexplicably
denied
that the moratorium applied to "any new offshore drilling activity,"
saying that it actually only applied to drilling of new wells. This allows the majority
of MMS
drilling permits, including the kind used by the Deepwater Horizon, to
proceed
unabated.

Salazar subsequently told Congress (and Carol
Browner told the media)
that no new wells had been drilled since April 20th.
Confronted with
the fact that new wells have been drilled since April 20th,
Interior
spokespeople said the Secretary was mistaken and that the moratorium
only
applies to new permits.

While the permit moratorium at least halts a
minimal number of
projects, Salazar has placed no moratorium at all on the approval of
drilling
plans without environmental review even though the president himself has
declared on May 14th: "It seems as if permits were too often
issued based on little more than assurances of safety from the oil
companies.
That cannot and will not happen anymore...We're also closing the
loophole that has allowed some oil companies to bypass some critical
environmental
reviews..."

MMS to this day is approving drilling plans
without environmental
review. Many are for ultradeep water drilling which is much more
dangerous than
the Deepwater Horizon.

###

At the Center for Biological Diversity, we believe that the welfare of human beings is deeply linked to nature - to the existence in our world of a vast diversity of wild animals and plants. Because diversity has intrinsic value, and because its loss impoverishes society, we work to secure a future for all species, great and small, hovering on the brink of extinction. We do so through science, law, and creative media, with a focus on protecting the lands, waters, and climate that species need to survive.

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