Interior Department’s Shortsighted Approval of Drilling Permit Is a Recipe for Disaster

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Interior Department’s Shortsighted Approval of Drilling Permit Is a Recipe for Disaster

Statement of Tyson Slocum, Director, Public Citizen’s Energy Program

WASHINGTON - Talk about short-term memory.

For the first time since 2010’s oil disaster in the Gulf of Mexico, the Department of Interior has granted a deepwater drilling permit -- for a well in which BP has the largest financial stake. To do so without imposing stronger environmental and safety standards is a recipe for disaster. The agency must be naïve to think this is about Noble Energy, the applicant.

The Interior Department must start evaluating financial partners in its assessment of whether to grant drilling permits and should not be granting application status to minority interest partners.

By considering this drilling permit a venture of Noble Energy, which has a 23.25 percent financial stake in the operation, the Interior Department has its head in the sand. BP, the corporation responsible for 4.9 million barrels of oil gushing into the Gulf of Mexico in 2010, has a financial interest double that of the application’s namesake. A 46.5 percent share is nothing to scoff at.

Although Noble’s name is on the application, BP could have twice the say on safety or environmental matters - and we’ve seen how that plays out.

If the Obama administration is really as serious as it claims about reforming the deepwater drilling industry, it must uphold the standards it has proposed. This is no time to be waiving the new stringent regulations, particularly when the involved corporation has a history of environmental and worker abuses.

The tougher permitting process has not led to the $100 barrels of oil we are seeing today. It is not the cause for panic at the pump.

Going forward, the Obama administration must subject deepwater well applications to tougher scrutiny and take into account all financial partners in an application. In the future, a minority partner cannot be allowed to be the applicant. The Obama administration should consider the track record and financial partners of applicants before approving a permit.

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Public Citizen is a national, nonprofit consumer advocacy organization founded in 1971 to represent consumer interests in Congress, the executive branch and the courts.

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