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For Immediate Release, May 31, 2010

Contact: Kierán Suckling (520) 275-5960

Interior Formalizes Oil-drilling Moratorium

Center Applauds Deepwater Action, Decries Lifting of Shallow Moratorium and
Continuation of Environmental Waivers

TUCSON, Ariz.— Interior Secretary Ken Salazar yesterday released the Department of the Interior’s written description of the six-month drilling moratorium announced by President Barack Obama last week. Salazar has been heavily criticized for breaches of his previous moratorium — which allowed at least 17 drilling permits to be issued — and for defining the moratorium differently with each new revelation of an approved drilling permit. It was later determined that Salazar’s previous moratorium had only been issued verbally.

The current moratorium lifts limits placed on drilling in waters less than 500 feet deep, which were put in place on May 6, 2010. Such drilling can now continue unabated, while under the May 6 moratorium new wells were not allowed to be initiated in waters less than 500 feet deep. The oil industry and Republican congresspersons have been heavily pressuring Salazar to exempt drilling in shallower waters from his moratorium.

The current moratorium expands limitations on drilling in waters greater than 500 feet deep for the next six months. Oil companies are allowed to continue retrieving oil from already completed wells, but they are not allowed to do any kind of drilling to initiate or complete new wells. This broader scope responds to criticism that Interior’s previous moratorium continued to allow the very same kind of drilling that was occurring on BP’s Deepwater Horizon when it exploded. The new moratorium does not allow such drilling types.

The current moratorium also allows the continued granting of highly controversial environmental waivers to drilling plans. The Deepwater Horizon drilling plan was approved with such a waiver, and at least 19 additional plans have been granted waivers since the Deepwater’s explosion on April 20, 2010. The waivers are being granted under the clearly false declaration that oil drilling poses no threat to the environment.

“We’re glad to see the moratorium has been expanded to cover all deepwater drilling,” said Kierán Suckling, executive director of the Center for Biological Diversity, “but we’re very upset that restrictions on shallower-water drilling have been lifted. All offshore oil drilling, whether deep or shallow, is dangerous and should be suspended.

“It is unbelievable that the Interior Department is continuing to exempt all drilling plans, deep or shallow, from environmental review. There is absolutely no question that offshore oil drilling is a danger to the environment and the fishing economy. Just look at the oil gushing into the Gulf of Mexico. It is not only illegal, it is deeply unethical for Salazar to allow these waivers to continue in the midst of the greatest environmental catastrophe in American history.”

The Center for Biological Diversity called upon Secretary Salazar to take the following actions immediately:

1. Remove former BP executive Sylvia Baca from her job as deputy assistant secretary for land and minerals management. Secretary Salazar expressed outrage at the Inspector General’s finding earlier this week that the revolving door between the oil industry and the Minerals Management Service has undermined the agency’s effectiveness and credibility. He did not mention, however, that in June 2009 he himself appointed a BP executive to oversee the Minerals Management Service.

“Sylvia Baca is a classic example of the revolving door between oil companies and the MMS,” said Suckling. “It was a terrible judgment call to appoint her; it is politically catastrophic to keep her. If Salazar is serious about reform, he needs to start with his own interest-conflicted appointments.”

2. Ban the use of environmental waivers for offshore exploration and production plans. Such waivers are designed for very small-impact projects such as constructing hiking trails and outhouses. There is no possible scenario in which an offshore drilling project — whether deepwater, ultradeepwater, or shallow water — can be considered a non-threat to the environment, economy, and endangered species.

3. Rescind all drilling approvals issued with environmental waivers. Hundreds of dangerous offshore oil platforms are operating today in the Gulf of Mexico without having undergone any environmental review. These dangerous drilling projects are operating illegally and threaten the Gulf with additional oil spills.

4. Rescind the Interior Department’s plan to open up new areas on the Atlantic Coast, eastern Gulf of Mexico, and Alaska to offshore oil drilling. The president’s announcement, made on March 31, 2010, three weeks before the BP explosion, was made on the false premise that offshore oil drilling is safe.

5. Permanently ban all new offshore oil drilling, beginning in Alaska. As a nation, we need to transition to clean energy sources such as sun and wind as fast as possible. Pushing forward with new, dangerous, and dirty offshore oil drilling sends the wrong signal to energy companies and technology developers. Continued subsidizing of Big Oil is a major hindrance to our nation’s development of clean energy.

The Center for Biological Diversity is a national, nonprofit conservation organization with more than 260,000 members and online activists dedicated to the protection of endangered species and wild places.

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