Offshore drilling ban: Will revised moratorium appease courts?
The Obama administration released a new version of its moratorium on offshore drilling, saying the ban was needed to protect against the risks of another accident.
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Blowout preventers of the sort that failed aboard the Deepwater Horizon have come in for particular scrutiny. New extensive testing of the preventers being used by the two rigs drilling relief wells to try to plug the Deepwater Horizon have found several potentially serious problems with mechanisms on the unit.Skip to next paragraph
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Three of four problems involved "shuttle valves" that, if they don't work, can cause the large safety device to fail to close off a well that is running wild, the department said.
The fourth problem, however, was related to a failure of one of the blowout preventer's control systems. Each preventer has a yellow pod and a blue pod – the brains of a blowout preventer. Each backs up the other. They are supposed to respond to commands from the surface and order huge "shear ram" valves to close, slicing through drill pipe and shutting off the well in the event of a blowout.
But a broken solenoid connection on the "blue pod" of one of the relief well's blowout preventer's stopped that pod from closing the casing shear rams during a test, the department said.
Such a failure holds potential for the same type of disaster that befell the Deepwater Horizon, experts say.
For Salazar, the four failures were more critical evidence that had to be factored in during the new suspensions. "I remain open to modifying the new deepwater drilling suspensions based on new information,” said Secretary Salazar, “but industry must raise the bar on its practices and answer fundamental questions about deepwater safety, blowout prevention and containment, and oil spill response.”
Oil industry representatives were little mollified by the new suspension's outlines. "Unfortunately, the administration does not recognize the potential consequences because virtually no changes were made to this new drilling ban – it's simply more of the same shortsighted policies being created," the Independent Petroleum Association of American said in a statement.
Lawmakers on both sides of the aisle either hailed or decried the decision. Rep. Ed Markey (D) of Mass. backed the switch. “This moratorium will reduce oil spill risk while the Gulf will continue to produce oil. As new laws and safety measures are put into place on these few dozen rigs, 97 percent of the manned rigs in the Gulf will still be allowed to work," he said in a statement.
But Rep. Doc Hastings, (R) of Wash. saw things differently: "The Obama Administration’s latest attempt to impose a moratorium on offshore drilling will only cause further harm to Gulf State economies," he said in a statement. "We must ensure that American offshore drilling is the safest in the world, but we should not make knee-jerk decisions that threaten jobs, the economy, energy independence and national security.”
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