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BP oil spill halts US drilling permits, for now

Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar announced that no new drilling permits would be released until a safety review ordered by Obama is released later this month. The BP oil spill has increased calls by environmentalists for a permanent ban on offshore drilling.

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In a separate but related move Thursday, the DOI also announced it would temporarily postpone public meetings on proposed lease sales in federal waters off of Virginia so that information from the presidential review could be included in them.

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Industry officials said the government moves made sense given the Gulf oil spill emergency, while noting that it was a temporary step.

"The focus now of industry and government efforts is on the Gulf Coast, as it should be," said Bill Bush, a spokesman for the American Petroleum Institute, in an e-mail. "Our understanding is that Interior's postponement of hearings and some of its other actions are temporary, pending investigation of the Deepwater Horizon incident. We hope once we cope with this unprecedented spill in the Gulf of Mexico, we can move forward to address our nation's energy needs, including its need for additional sources of domestic oil and natural gas supplies."

Environmentalists applauded the delay, but not the temporary nature of the permit pullback.

“The three week time-out is welcome news,” said Kierán Suckling, executive director of the Center for Biological Diversity in a statement, “but it is too little, too late. We need a permanent, nationwide moratorium on all new offshore oil drilling."

President Obama, he continued, should rescind his March decision to open up Alaska, the eastern Gulf of Mexico, and the Atlantic Coast to what he called "dangerous, uncontrollable offshore oil drilling.”