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For Immediate Release, June 3, 2010

Contact: Kierán Suckling, 520-275-5960

Confusion Continues to Plague Interior Department Drilling Rules;
Center Calls for Stronger Leadership, Clearer Rules

TUCSON, Ariz.— Since revelations last month that the BP Deepwater Horizon, as well as hundreds of other deep and shallow-water drilling projects, were exempted from environmental review, the Department of the Interior has announced a series of agency reforms and drilling moratoriums. In every case, the policies were quickly criticized for being ignored, misrepresented, constantly changed, and too weak to prevent additional oil-spill catastrophes.

All of the policies were hastily issued in response to negative media stories, and some were never written down.

Today the Interior Department continued its confused, leadership-challenged approach in response to media stories yesterday critical of its approval of a new shallow-water drilling operation without environmental review. Minerals Management Service officials withdrew the drilling permit and informed oil companies that a moratorium had been placed on shallow-water drilling. By this afternoon, the Department of the Interior had denied that shallow-water drilling was being shut down, prompting the Wall Street Journal to declare “Confusion Reigns as Interior Department Rescinds Drilling Permits.”

“The Interior Department has proven itself incapable of controlling the Minerals Management Service or articulating clear, consistent drilling policies,” said Kierán Suckling, executive director of the Center for Biological Diversity. “There is a huge leadership vacuum at the top and very poor communication throughout the agency. No one seems to know what the policies are from day to day, or even hour to hour.”

“The Interior Department’s baffling, ever-changing reforms have only muddied the discussion over much-needed actions to protect the Gulf, the Arctic, and other areas vulnerable to disastrous oil spills,” said Suckling. “Maybe the next step should be a moratorium on half-baked solutions that do little to address the fundamental problems.”

The Center is again calling on Interior Secretary Ken Salazar to immediately take the following critical actions:

* Ban the use of environmental waivers for offshore exploration and production plans and rescind all drilling approvals issued with those waivers. 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.

* Permanently ban all new offshore oil drilling. 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.

Although much of the focus today is on changes to shallow-water drilling, there’s nothing to suggest it’s any less dangerous than deepwater drilling. The largest oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico – the Ixtoc I disaster that dumped 138 million gallons of oil in 1979 – was from a shallow-water well.

The Minerals Management Service’s own data, collected over a 15-year period, demonstrates that “well control performance for deepwater drilling was significantly better than for shallow water operations.”

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