Robert Gibbs, showing rare outrage at a ConservaDem member of Congress, described himself as sad and disappointed at Mary Landrieu’s hold on Jacob Lew for OMB Director (by the way, if it was so important to them, the White House could have demanded the Senate to take a cloture vote and break the filibuster). Interestingly, though the moratorium on offshore drilling is set to expire in just a couple months, the Administration refuses to back down on dropping the ban earlier:
“The president — well, Secretary Salazar met with Senator Landrieu to update her on where we are with the situation,” Gibbs added. “They have met in the last couple of days to get an update on where we are. We are not bargaining the safety of oil drilling away for an appointment that shouldn’t be the cause of the type of gridlock that we are used to seeing in Washington. And I would think people who are concerned about our fiscal picture, who are concerned about where we are heading in the deficit, at the time of crisis would not do the type of things that Senator Landrieu is doing.”
Indeed, the Interior Department moved forward today with new offshore drilling rules without moving up the end of the moratorium.
The new rules — governing blowout preventers, safety certification, well design, emergency response and worker training — provide offshore drillers with clarity on the terms under which drilling will resume when the current freeze ends. The main conditions had already been telegraphed by the department in a safety report issued in May and in two notices to offshore operators handed down in June, in response to the blowout of a BP well in the Gulf of Mexico on April 20 [...]
In an interview, Mr. Salazar said he expected oil companies to complain, but to quickly come into compliance.
“We’ll hear from industry that the regulations are too onerous, but the fact is, it’s a new day,” he said. “There is the pre-April 20th framework of regulation and the post-April 20th framework, and the oil and gas industry better get used to it, because that’s the way it’s going to be.”
The secretary pointedly refused to say when or under what conditions he would lift the drilling suspension, which has caused economic hardship along the Gulf Coast and political headaches for the Obama administration in Washington.
“We will lift it at our own time and when we’re ready, and not based on political pressure from anyone,” Mr. Salazar said.
The White House has really dug in its heels here on the moratorium issue, probably more out of reputation and power than anything else.
As for the actual safety rules, Salazar announced two specific ones today.
The Drilling Safety Rule, effective immediately upon publication, makes mandatory several requirements for the drilling process that were laid out in Secretary Salazar’s May 27th Safety Report to President Obama. The regulation prescribes proper cementing and casing practices and the appropriate use of drilling fluids in order to maintain well bore integrity, the first line of defense against a blowout. The regulation also strengthens oversight of mechanisms designed to shut off the flow of oil and gas, primarily the Blowout Preventer (BOP) and its components, including Remotely Operated Vehicles (ROVs), shear rams and pipe rams. Operators must also secure independent and expert reviews of their well design, construction and flow intervention mechanisms….
The Workplace Safety Rule requires operators to have a Safety and Environmental Management System (SEMS), which is a comprehensive safety and environmental impact program designed to reduce human and organizational errors as the root cause of work-related accidents and offshore oil spills. The Workplace Safety Rule makes mandatory American Petroleum Institute (API) Recommended Practice 75, which was previously a voluntary program to identify, address and manage safety hazards and environmental impacts in their operations.
This looks a little bit like fighting the last war, targeting precisely the suspected causes of the BP disaster and not the entire mechanism of offshore drilling. But I’d rather have these rules in place than nothing. And mandatory practices over voluntary ones is certainly a good start.