When the Obama administration announced last week that it was extending the temporary moratorium on offshore drilling for another six months, it had no intention of including shallow-water drilling in that time-out. Following through, the administration approved a new permit for drilling just off the coast of Louisiana on Wednesday. Because, you know, what could go wrong?
The Minerals Management Service granted a new drilling permit sought by Bandon Oil and Gas for a site about 50 miles off the coast of Louisiana and 115 feet below the ocean's surface. It's south of Rockefeller State Wildlife Refuge and Game Preserve, far to the west of the Deepwater Horizon oil rig that triggered the BP spill.
The permit was issued Wednesday morning, according to MMS records. The approval makes clear that the administration, despite touting the need for caution in last week's announcement, has no plans to limit shallow-water drilling, which is defined as drilling in waters of less than 500 feet.
An Interior spokesman told the AP that they believe that this drilling is safe. "The interim safety measures, as long as they're completely adhered to, we feel that's enough for the shallow-water drilling to proceed under closer scrutiny and stepped-up inspections," said spokesman Frank Quimby.
That shallow-water drilling is less dangerous than drilling in the deeper waters is questionable, at best. It might be easier to stop a blowout when it's not a mile below the surface, as the Deepwater Horizon is, but shallow water spills can stil be quite disasterous. Indeed, the worst drilling disaster in the Gulf to date, the blowout of the Ixtoc 1 well off the coast of Mexico in June 1979, occurred in shallow seas, under just 160 feet of water. That disaster dumped 138 million gallons of oil into the Gulf and lasted 9 months.
Needless to say, offshore drilling critics aren't happy about the new permit. "Opening new drilling in the Gulf is asking for trouble," said Sierra Club executive director Michael Brune. "Where there is drilling, there are spills."