Last Wednesday, the Department of the Interior announced that it would not pursue new offshore oil drilling in the Gulf of Mexico or the East Coast for the next seven years. The announcement effectively reverses the position on offshore drilling that the Interior Department adopted in March, in which it supported investigating new wells on the Eastern seaboard from Florida to Delaware.
According to Interior Secretary Ken Salazar, the new position is a result of the BP Oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico earlier this year, which underscored weaknesses in federal regulation and oversight. Secretary Salazar stated, in order to address the problems highlighted by the spill, new and pending drilling projects will be subject to a more rigorous environmental review that will include stringent spill response requirements.
The announcement has been widely supported by the environmental community, which sees the reduction in potential offshore drilling sites as a positive step toward reducing the risk of future catastrophic oil spills and environmental degradation. However, some pending offshore drilling projects off the coast of Alaska are still being allowed to proceed. As Marilyn Heiman from the Pew Environment Group said, “What it means is they’ve learned a great deal from the Macondo blowout…they still need to learn a lot more.”