Members of a panel of experts brought in to advise the Obama administration on how to address offshore drilling safety after the Deepwater Horizon disaster now say Interior Secretary Ken Salazar falsely implied they supported a six-month drilling moratorium they actually oppose.
Salazar's May 27 report to President Barack Obama said a panel of seven experts "peer reviewed" his recommendations, which included a six-month moratorium on all ongoing drilling in waters deeper than 500 feet. That prohibition took effect a few days later, but the angry panel members and some others who contributed to the Salazar report said they had reviewed only an earlier version of the secretary's report that suggested a six-month moratorium only on new drilling, and then only in waters deeper than 1,000 feet.
"We broadly agree with the detailed recommendations in the report and compliment the Department of Interior for its efforts," a joint letter from the panelists to various politicians says. "However, we do not agree with the six month blanket moratorium on floating drilling. A moratorium was added after the final review and was never agreed to by the contributors."
An Interior Department spokeswoman agreed that the experts had not given their blessing for a moratorium, and said the department did not mean to leave the impression they had. In fact, she said, the experts were merely asked to review 22 safety recommendations in the report.
"We didn't mean to imply that they also agreed with the moratorium on deepwater drilling," the spokeswoman, Kendra Barkoff, said. "We acknowledge that they were not asked to review or comment on the proposed moratorium and that they peer-reviewed the report on a technical basis. The moratorium on deepwater drilling is based on the need for a comprehensive review of safety in deepwater operations in light of the BP oil spill."
The experts' criticism of the moratorium and effort to distance themselves from it come as oil production companies prepare to move mobile deepwater rigs out of the Gulf of Mexico, threatening thousands of jobs in Louisiana that support those drilling operations with supply boats and shoreside services.
"A blanket moratorium is not the answer. It will not measurably reduce risk further and it will have a lasting impact on the nation's economy which may be greater than that of the oil spill," the letter says. "We do not believe punishing the innocent is the right thing to do." (Continues here)