Feds Will Listen to Public on Deepwater Drilling Safety

WASHINGTON, DC, July 19, 2010 (ENS) – In view of the three-month long BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, many people have formed strong opinions about drilling for oil in deepwater. Later this summer they are invited to give the Obama administration an earful in public.

The director of the newly reorganized federal agency that oversees deepwater drilling for oil and gas off America’s coasts will lead a series of public meetings in August and September to collect information and views about deepwater drilling safety reforms, blowout containment, and oil spill response.

Michael Bromwich (Photo courtesy DOI)

Michael Bromwich, director of the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, Regulation, and Enforcement, BOEM, formerly the Minerals Management Service, will be soliciting input from the general public, state and local leaders, and experts from academia, the environmental community, and the oil and gas industry.

“We will engage the public and experts on these issues to determine what additional measures are needed so that deepwater drilling can proceed in a manner that is safe for crews, the environment, and coastal communities,” Bromwich said.

“It’s important that we hear from those who have been directly affected by the BP oil spill, as well as from other stakeholders, including the conservation community and the oil and gas industry itself,” he said.

“We need to know that industry got the message,” Bromwich said, “and that they are quickly taking steps to ensure deepwater drilling operations are safe. “They also have to demonstrate to us that they can contain a catastrophic blowout similar to BP oil spill as well as respond appropriately in the event of another oil spill,” he said.

The suspensions announced July 12 established a temporary pause of deepwater drilling in order to address issues related to drilling, blowout containment, and oil spill response, including to allow time to collect additional information regarding these issues through public outreach and ongoing investigations into the Deepwater Horizon incident.

Bromwich and Interior Secretary Ken Salazar said a temporary pause on deepwater drilling will allow time to implement recent safety reforms and for operators to submit evidence that they have the ability to respond effectively to a potential oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, given the unprecedented commitment of oil spill response resources now being dedicated to the BP oil spill.

The temporary pause allows for the assessment of wild well intervention and blowout containment resources to determine the strategies and methods by which they can be made more readily available should another blowout occur.

Finally, the suspensions will permit the collection and analysis of key evidence regarding the potential causes of the April 20, 2010 explosion and sinking of the Deepwater Horizon offshore drilling rig, including information collected by the Presidential Commission and several other investigations.

The suspensions are set to last until November 30, 2010, or until such earlier time that Secretary Salazar determines that deepwater drilling operations can proceed safely.

They were announced after an appeals court in New Orleans upheld a lower court ruling that overturned a six-month moratorium on deepwater drilling that the Obama administration attempted to impose.

“Because we’re interested in getting input from a variety of sources, we plan to hold the meetings in seven states: Alabama, Alaska, California, Florida, Louisiana, Mississippi, and Texas,” Bromwich said.

Meetings are being scheduled to take place in August in the following cities: New Orleans and Lafayette, Louisiana; Mobile, Alabama; Pensacola, Florida; Santa Barbara, California; and Anchorage, Alaska.

Meetings will be held in early September in the following cities: Biloxi, Mississippi and Houston, Texas.

The agency is finalizing the planning for these meetings, including the specific locations and dates, which will be announced shortly.

The meeting format will allow people from academia, industry, and environmental organizations to serve as panel members to provide testimony, combined with the opportunity for audience members to provide public comment during the meeting.

Members of the public will be able to submit comments in person at the meetings, online, and by mail.

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