White House oil spill commission’s chairmen indicate intention to push back on offshore drilling moratorium

James Plummer Contributor
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The White House’s “National Commission on the BP Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill and Offshore Drilling” finished its first set of hearings Tuesday with its chairmen indicating they would encourage the administration to rethink its moratorium on offshore drilling. Testimony and public comments from locals slammed not only the moratorium, but also federal obstructionism on key engineering projects and the use of one chemical oil dispersant.

Following an opening day of hearings that featured an impassioned plea by Sen. Mary Landrieu, Louisiana Democrat, urging the Obama administration to reconsider its back-to-back moratoria, the first speaker on Tuesday was the Interior Department’s Michael Bromwich, who defended the latest moratorium. Two other federal officials defending the sub-sea use of the dispersant Corexit.

Clint Guidry, a shrimper and member of the governor’s Louisiana Shrimp Task Force slammed the federal government for stopping local officials from building rock walls to keep the oil in the Gulf out of Louisiana’s internal waters. “Not allowing us to do what we know is right and what will work … it is just amazing to me that people in Washington won’t give us more support than that. It is ridiculous.” Guidry worried that without such barriers, a hurricane storm surge could put more than a foot of not just water, but water topped with crude oil, in homes all over South Louisiana.

Co-chair Robert Graham said he was “sensing some disconnect between Washington and the Gulf region in the sense of urgency needed” in winding down the moratorium. Co-chair William Reilly pointed out that “questions that were raised about the moratorium were unanimous, even among the fishermen.” Reilly, armed with “a greater sense of the economic dislocation and hardship caused by the moratorium than I had a few days ago,” said he was “very inclined” to advise Interior Secretary Ken Salazar to reconsider the drilling ban.

Regarding the safety of Corexit, Reilly said, “I didn’t get the impression from the two presenters we heard from NOAA [National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration] and EPA [Environmental Protection Agency] that they were very comfortable with their conclusions.” Citing the “cosmetic dimension to the use of dispersants” which help keep oil off the beaches while polluting the water column, Reilly called it “a tradeoff that is not in favor of the fish.”

Asked by The Daily Caller if the commission intends to investigate the the circumstances of the blowout before making safety recommendations, Graham replied: “It’s not quite clear whether this was a specific situation driven by a specific company [BP] which had almost an outlier pattern of safety violations … or whether on the other hand there is a wide-ranging set of threats where any rig could blow … We are not in a position to develop primary source data to answer that question – we are in a position to identify who can [do so] on a timely, expedited basis, so we can look over their shoulders.”

The day ended with an hour of comments from the public. Two petroleum engineers urged the commission to look into the cementing procedures used by BP as the likely proximate cause of the oil-rig blowout. The first member of the public to speak, Robert Sizemore, echoed the theme of the day when he said, “I had a hardline attitude on wanting the moratorium. After attending this hearing for the past two days, I’ve changed my mind on that a good deal.”