May 26, 2010

CARDIN, BOXER CALL FOR ADDITIONAL REVIEW OF OFFSHORE DRILLING PERMITS

Letter to Interior Secretary seeks "reasonable assurances that a repeat of the Deepwater Horizon incident would not occur"

Washington, DC - U.S. Senator Barbara Boxer (D-CA), Chairman of the Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works, and Senator Benjamin L. Cardin (D-MD), Chairman of the EPW Water and Wildlife Subcommittee, today wrote to Interior Secretary Ken Salazar requesting additional review of all drilling activity in the Outer Continental Shelf (OCS), and that approval of new permits include a processes that ensures that drilling will not pose unacceptable risks to the economy and the environment.

 

The Senators wrote:

 

"We are writing to request an immediate review of all drilling underway now in offshore waters to ensure that every well has an effective plan in place to prevent and respond to disasters like the one currently underway in the Gulf of Mexico.

 

"In addition, we ask that any plans or permits for new drilling in the Outer Continental Shelf (OCS) not be approved unless there are reasonable assurances that a repeat of the Deepwater Horizon incident would not occur."

 

Senator Cardin added:   "Despite the president's announced moratorium on expanded drilling, MMS has continued to approve drilling projects and plans that have been based on flawed procedures, unreliable assurances, and process which allowed BP to drill without environmental safeguards. That's just wrong.   We cannot allow a regulatory system that has been inadequate to keep green lighting drilling activity and expect we will be protected from disasters like what is occurring in the Gulf today; a disaster that is inflicting great harm to our environment and economy, public safety, property owners and small business owners, as well as American taxpayers."

 

 

 

Full text of the letter is attached below.

 


 

May 26, 2010

 

The Honorable Ken Salazar

Secretary

United States Department of the Interior

1849 C Street, NW, Room 6156

Washington, DC 20240

 

Dear Secretary Salazar:

 

We are writing to request an immediate review of all drilling underway now in offshore waters to ensure that every well has an effective plan in place to prevent and respond to disasters like the one currently underway in the Gulf of Mexico.

 

In addition, we ask that any plans or permits for new drilling in the Outer Continental Shelf (OCS) not be approved unless there are reasonable assurances that a repeat of the Deepwater Horizon incident would not occur.

 

Background

 

On May 6, 2010, in the wake of the Deepwater Horizon disaster, you directed the Minerals Management Service (MMS) to stop issuing permits to drill new wells pending completion of a 30-day review of safety issues surrounding OCS drilling that was ordered by President Obama.  The President reaffirmed this moratorium in a speech on May 14, 2010. Also on the 14th, you and Nancy Sutley, Chair of the Council on Environmental Quality (CEQ), announced a review of MMS' NEPA procedures.  The President also stated that the Administration is "closing the loophole that has allowed some oil companies to bypass some critical environmental reviews." 

 

                On May 23, 2010, however, the New York Times reported that multiple permits for OCS drilling were issued after your order to temporarily halt approvals for new wells.  In addition, the New York Times article indicated that since the April 20 explosion, multiple plans for drilling activities have been granted a categorical exclusion, which is a decision not to require detailed environmental review under the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA). 

 

An Inspector General report released yesterday raised further concerns about MMS oversight of drilling operations by highlighting inappropriate relationships between MMS inspectors and their oil industry counterparts that occurred prior to 2007.  A March 2010 GAO report also found that MMS faces challenges in the Alaska OCS Region in carrying out its responsibilities under NEPA. The GAO report highlighted allegations by stakeholders and former MMS scientists of suppression or alteration of their work on environmental issues. 

 

Drilling Oversight

 

Recent news and government reports continue to call into question the oversight of offshore drilling activities in all areas of the OCS open for drilling.  As we reach the end of the 30-day safety review, which is expected on May 28, it is clear that drilling must not be allowed to resume without additional review.

 

 

We strongly urge that review and approval of all new drilling plans and permits be deferred until the findings of all ongoing reviews, including the Independent Commission established by the President and the joint Department of Interior and CEQ review of NEPA procedures, are properly addressed and recommended reforms have been instituted.

 

We would also like you to clarify your current policy regarding oversight and environmental review of drilling activities, the scope of the moratorium put in place on May 6, and the conditions that must exist before it is lifted.  A series of specific questions addressing these issues is attached.

 

                We share your commitment to reforming the MMS and ensuring adequate oversight of the safety and environmental impact of offshore drilling.  We look forward to working with you on this critical matter.

 

Thank you for your attention to this request.  We would appreciate your prompt reply.

Sincerely,


Barbara Boxer
Benjamin L. Cardin
U.S. Senators