Examiner Editorial: Salazar’s sleights of hand on Gulf drilling

Sen. Mary Landrieu, D-La., was either being diplomatic or disingenuous when she used “good start” to describe Interior Secretary Ken Salazar’s lifting of the federal government’s drilling moratorium in the Gulf of Mexico.

More to the point was her insistence that lifting the ban means nothing in the absence of “an action plan to get the entire industry in the Gulf of Mexico back to work. This means that the administration must continue to accelerate the granting of permits in shallow and deep water, and provide greater certainty about the rules and regulations industry must meet.”

The Louisiana Democrat also warned Salazar and his boss in the Oval Office that “when Congress reconvenes for the lame-duck session next month, I will have had several weeks to evaluate if today’s lifting of the moratorium is actually putting people back to work.” Experts at Louisiana State University estimate the drilling ban has destroyed as many as 20,000 Gulf-region jobs.

Landrieu knows that the Interior’s bureaucratic slow-walking of drilling applications remains in place and is far more debilitating than the deep-water drilling ban Salazar imposed in the wake of the April 20 Deepwater Horizon disaster. Thus, she said, Interior has to “accelerate the granting of permits in shallow and deep water, and provide greater certainty about the rules and regulations industry must meet” before she will lift her hold on confirmation of President Barack Obama’s choice of Jack Lew as director of the Office of Management and Budget.

Salazar’s edict did not apply to shallow-water drilling, but, as Dan Kish of the Institute for Energy Research pointed out, the Interior still approved only one-tenth as many of these after the ban was instituted as it did before. And it’s not just in the Gulf of Mexico where the Interior’s bureaucratic lethargy under Salazar has dramatically slowed oil and gas exploration and production activity. Approval of bids for all U.S. offshore exploration was slowed so much by Salazar that royalty payments to the federal government plummeted from $10 billion in 2008 to less than $1 billion last year.

What may be most worrisome about Salazar’s ban announcement, however, is his suggestion that even-more onerous regulations are in the offing from the Interior, which sparked this pungent observation by Bruce Vincent of the Independent Petroleum Association of America: “The massive amounts of new, unworkable regulations and layers of burdensome red tape laid out by the Interior Department, which will add no environmental benefits, will make certain that a de facto moratorium on offshore energy development remains intact.

“We remain concerned that Secretary Salazar today announced in his own words ‘a regulatory environment that will remain dynamic.’ Offshore operators need regulatory certainty so that we can plan long-term projects; rules and regulations that are in constant state of alteration will do nothing to help create a stable business environment.”

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