President Barack Obama will not be allowing new drilling in the eastern Gulf of Mexico for at least seven years, according to a senior administration official.
Obama's decision effectively reverses White House plans announced at the end of March to open the region -- along with large swaths of U.S. coastal waters -- to oil and natural gas drilling.
Under the plan, roughly two-thirds of available oil and gas resources in the eastern Gulf would have been opened to drilling. Areas located within 125 miles of the Florida coast would have remained off limits.
The seven-year ban is being imposed as a result of the April 20 explosion of BP's Deepwater Horizon drilling rig in the Gulf, which killed 11 people and triggered one of the worst environmental disasters in U.S. history.
An estimated 4.9 million barrels (206 million gallons) of oil gushed into the Gulf before the broken well, 5,000 feet below the surface, was capped.
Interior Secretary Ken Salazar is scheduled to hold a briefing on the decision at 1:30 p.m. ET Wednesday.
The administration lifted a six-month moratorium on deep-water oil drilling in October.
"There will always be risks associated with deep-water drilling," Salazar said at the time. But "we have reached a point where we have significantly reduced those risks."
Salazar argued that the moratorium provided time to make sure similar accidents involving a failed piece of equipment called a blowout preventer wouldn't occur and that rig operators were prepared to deal with worst-case scenarios if they did happen.
Critics of the ban, including Republican leaders, Gulf state officials and Gulf Coast residents, said it would only hurt oil and gas workers in hard-hit coastal communities, where hundreds of jobs were lost because of the disaster.
Environmental groups and other supporters of the moratorium argued that it was necessary due to a lack of effective regulation of deep-water drilling that allowed the Deepwater Horizon explosion and subsequent spill to occur. (Source CNN)