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Report: Deepwater Drilling, Now Less Risky, Can Resume

A report commissioned by the national oil spill commission found that new safety standards put forward by the Interior Department and the oil and gas industry are adequate enough to overturn the deepwater drilling moratorium and resume the practice.

The report is already fueling an ongoing debate about the validity of the moratorium, which President Obama originally said would last for six months, but administration officials have acknowledged might be overturned sooner. Many in the Gulf have argued that the moratorium will cost jobs in an already struggling economy. But Democrats counter that the ban is necessary to ensure the safety of continued offshore drilling.

The report, by the Bipartisan Policy Center — which was established in 2007 by former Senate Majority Leaders Howard Baker, Tom Daschle, Bob Dole and George Mitchell — finds that the six-month moratorium on deepwater drilling imposed by President Obama has given the Interior Department and industry time to develop new safety standards. “We believe DOI and the industry have used this time effectively to develop a new regime for drilling in the Gulf of Mexico,” a summary of the report says.

The summary continues:

We are satisfied that compliance with the Interior Department’s Notice to Lessees #5 and #6 and other actions by the Department of Interior (DOI) will achieve a significant and beneficial reduction of risk. We believe this new regime will provide an adequate margin of safety to responsibly allow the resumption of deep water drilling in the Gulf of Mexico.

But the report also notes that the industry could have a difficult time complying with the new standards. “The costs and technical sophistication needed to comply with these new requirements may discourage some rigs and companies from future operation in the Gulf of Mexico. Although this outcome would be unfortunate, we believe it is imperative that all companies be held to a consistent set of safety requirements,” the report says.

The report was written at the request of National Commission on the BP Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill and Offshore Drilling by a working group within the Bipartisan Policy Center.

The American Petroleum Institute, the country’s most powerful industry trade group, endorsed the report’s findings today. Erik Milito, an API official, said in a statement:

The Bipartisan Policy Center report is another indication of what we’ve been saying for some time: We need to lift this deepwater moratorium, which is having the effect of further harming an already-struggling Gulf community.

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