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US to require review of new deep-water oil drilling

16 August 10 21:09
Ken Salazar

The US will require an environmental assessment for new deep-water offshore drilling, the government has said.

The new policy ends a practice that allowed the BP Deepwater Horizon oil rig to drill with little scrutiny.

It was announced as a White House panel reported the project in the Gulf of Mexico had been granted exemptions from review based on decades-old data.

A 20 April explosion on the BP-leased rig killed 11 workers and set off one of the worst oil spills in history.

"In light of the increasing levels of complexity and risk - and the consequent potential environmental impacts - associated with deep-water drilling, we are taking a fresh look at the [environmental protection] process and the types of environmental reviews that should be required for offshore activity," Interior Secretary Ken Salazar said in a statement.

"Our decision-making must be fully informed by an understanding of the potential environmental consequences of federal actions permitting offshore oil and gas development."

'Categorical exemptions'

The White House Council on Environmental Quality on Monday released a report calling on the interior department to tighten its environmental review procedures for deep-water drilling plans.

It suggested the department review how it grants "categorical exemptions" from environmental assessment requirements in new deep-water drilling projects.

The report noted categorical exclusions under which the BP well plan won regulatory approval were established in 1981 and 1986, "before deep-water drilling became widespread".

The report also noted that in weighing the chances of a major oil spill when deciding whether to approve the BP well plan, the US Minerals Management Service did not consider the 1979 Ixtoc I spill in the Gulf.

Until the Deepwater Horizon, that was the largest accidental oil spill in recent decades, but regulators left it out of their considerations because the spill was not in US waters.

While it reviews its categorical exclusion policy, the department will require environmental assessments for proposed deep-water drilling projects.

Deep-water drilling is currently suspended under a moratorium announced in July. If the moratorium is lifted, the new policy will significantly slow approval of new deep-water drilling projects.

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