Sec. Salazar Details Offshore Oil and Gas Drilling Moratorium

ABC News' Yunji de Nies reports:

Interior Secretary Ken Salazar told reporters this afternoon that the Obama Administration is ordering a moratorium on all off-shore oil and gas drilling activity from floating drilling rigs until the President’s commission on the BP incident has completed a more thorough review. At the same time, he said his agency is working to strengthen safety and oversight measures for deep water oil and gas exploration. The moratorium applies to wells in waters above a depth of 500 feet, including 33 deep water rigs that had been permitted in the Gulf of Mexico. Wells that have already started drilling are required to halt operations at the first safe stopping point and then take steps to secure the well.

The move comes as part of the Secretary’s 30-day review of the Deep Water Horizon drill explosion, requested by the President, which focuses on the two primary failures of the drilling process that that led to the disaster.

“One: the loss of well-control. And two: the failure of the blow out preventer mechanism,” Salazar explained.

Secretary Salazar said they are still investigating what went wrong on April 20th at the Deep Water Horizon rig, but the initial findings reveal that a number of problems occurred. He pointed to issues with the rig’s cementing, casing or perhaps both, which he said could have caused the blow out in the first place. Once the blow out occurred, Salazar said the blow out prevention mechanism did not work and that there are a host of questions around why it failed.

To address these concerns, Salazar said the administration is taking the following steps: - require certification of all blow out preventers - stronger well control - blow out prevention and intervention procedures - tougher inspections for deep water drilling operations - expanded safety and training programs for rig workers

“Some of these measures we can implement immediately, others will take some time,” he said.

The moratorium also affects possible oil exploration in the outer continental shelf, postponing consideration of drilling there until 2011. Salazar said he is cancelling the proposed 2012 lease sale for drilling off the coast of Virginia, along with a lease sale for the Gulf of Mexico scheduled for this August.

“I believe we must proceed with the utmost caution as we examine the many questions the BP oil spill raises, that’s why we are pausing deepwater drilling and examine our systems to ensure that this type of disaster does not happen again,” he said.

Salazar said the new moratorium will not affect current production and that there is no moratorium on shallow water wells in the general application. The 591 deep water producing wells in the Gulf of Mexico, along with 4,515 shallow wells will be allowed to continue to harvest oil and natural gas.

- Yunji de Nies

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