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Obama Administration Approves 27 Offshore Drilling Projects After Gulf Oil Spill

By May 10, 2010

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Here's some news that points to such shocking irresponsibility by the federal government that it is almost impossible to believe.

Since April 20, when the Deepwater Horizon offshore oil rig exploded, killing 11 workers and starting an oil spill that continues to pollute the Gulf of Mexico and threaten the fragile marine and coastal environments of several southern states, the Obama administration has quietly approved 27 new offshore drilling projects.

Twenty-six of those projects were approved under the same environmental review exemption that was used to green-light the deadly BP drilling project that led to the current disaster. Essentially, those 26 projects received environmental waivers or exemptions from the Minerals Management Service (MMS), a division of the U.S. Interior Department. Incredibly, two of those approvals were for new BP offshore drilling projects, despite BP's responsibility in the current disaster and the company's poor safety record.

All this took place while emergency crews were working feverishly to stop the flow of millions of gallons of crude oil from an underwater oil well that are drifting toward the fragile Gulf Coast. And it all happened while the White House was promising to do everything necessary to ensure better safety for offshore drilling, and while David Axelrod, one of President Obama's closest advisors, was telling reporters that no new offshore drilling projects would be allowed to proceed until a thorough investigation of the BP Deepwater Horizon oil spill was complete.

The Center for Biological Diversity, a respected environmental group, reported the news on Friday, shortly after MMS came under fire for exempting the BP offshore drilling plan from environmental review. Reports showed that MMS had used a loophole in the National Environmental Policy Act that is intended to apply only to projects such as hiking trails, which have no, or very few, potential environmental problems. MMS drew even more criticism when it was discovered that the agency has been exempting hundreds of dangerous offshore oil drilling projects in the Gulf of Mexico every year.

"The MMS has learned absolutely nothing from this national catastrophe," said Kierán Suckling, executive director of the Center for Biological Diversity, "It is still illegally exempting dangerous offshore drilling projects in the Gulf of Mexico from all environmental review. It is outrageous and unacceptable."

Reacting to the growing controversy surrounding MMS and its practice of waiving environmental review for potentially dangerous offshore drilling projects, U.S. Secretary Ken Salazar last week announced that he was banning approval of all new offshore oil drilling permits. But Salazar's announcement turned out to be little more than PR intended to turn down the public and political heat being aimed at his office.

Salazar's moratorium doesn't halt approval of drilling plans and environmental exemptions that are at the center of the problem. On Friday [May 7, 2010], the Interior Department acknowledged that it has not stopped approving environmental exemptions and drilling plans. All Salazar put on hold was issuance of a last technical check that does not involve any environmental review.

"Salazar is playing a cynical shell game, making the public think he stopped issuing the faulty approvals that allowed the disastrous BP drilling to occur, when in fact he has given MMS the green light to keep issuing those very same approvals," Suckling said. "The only thing Salazar has stopped is the final, technical check-off which comes long after the environmental review. His media sleight of hand does nothing to fix the broken system that allowed what may be the greatest environmental catastrophe of our generation to occur."

At the very least, Salazar and the MMS have shown a serious lack of judgment in exempting 26 new oil wells in the midst of an ongoing environmental and economic disaster in the Gulf of Mexico that seems to have no foreseeable end. At worst, those actions, combined with the long history of MMS exempting hundreds of offshore drilling projects from environmental review, is a betrayal of public trust that approaches criminal behavior.

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May 11, 2010 at 11:40 am
(1) Phillip Taylor says:

Where is the “Yes we can” man? In my opinion, Salazar should be fired NOW! And President Obama should rein in his staff and appointees and make them understand what his position is on all of these issues, that no more deviations from his agenda will be tolerated. And if his agenda supports these kinds of injustices, we need to remember that in the next elections. Enough is enough. Why doesn’t our President jump right in and stop the lying and manipulations of his staff and appointees?

May 11, 2010 at 2:16 pm
(2) Deborah White says:

Larry, I shared this at my Facebook. I’m speechless at this abject dishonesty, as well as reckless disregard for our environment.

May 12, 2010 at 1:50 am
(3) Carri Hope says:

Sure doesn’t take long to have commenters throw Salazar or Obama for that matter under the bus. I’d like to have a link to where you got your information Mr. West. I need proof other than your article.

May 12, 2010 at 3:38 am
(4) Larry West says:

I don’t agree that I’ve tossed anyone under a bus by reporting these problems, Carri. Elected officials and their political appointees are public servants. As such, they are accountable for their actions to the people they serve.

The problem of MMS waiving environmental review for offshore drilling projects didn’t start during the Obama administration, but now that he and Salazar are in charge they bear the responsibility if adverse policies continue on their watch.

As for my sources, most of them are already spelled out in the piece I wrote. Almost everything I’ve reported is a matter of public record and was brought to light by the Center for Biological Diversity. It was also reported by McClatchy News Service, Mother Jones, The Guardian, and many other news media.

May 12, 2010 at 11:35 am
(5) jim98624 says:

i can’t even watch the news. it makes me sick to know all that oil is wrecking the ocean. oil and water don’t mix and these deep water drilling should be banned worldwide. this is what you get when big corporations have politicians in their pockets. you and i would be fined if we took our motor oil and dumped it out on the ground. corporations just get a permit to dump their waste and that makes it ok. Obama is not looking out for the little guy, he is looking out for himself and his family planning how much money he will earn after he has to leave the presidency. Time for a change? not with this president.

May 19, 2010 at 11:49 am
(6) Anisah says:

Sorry, too many Americans are great at blame game but do little to actually IMPROVE their own communities.

We want to go without oil.. so be it. NO more plastics people!! No more computers… (they use plastic). No more private cars on the roads. No more low cost electricity (its using oil too). No more cheap food (those trucks and farm tractors use oil too). And the list goes on.

When its in your own back yard .. you want no drilling. When it means stealing Middle Eastern oil or propping up regimes there.. we say “no”… when it means drilling in our neighborhoods we say “no!” … when it means drilling in remote wildernesses… we saw “NO”. When its in the oceans… we say “no”. Come on… we need to face the reality that CHEAP ain’t cheap! it costs someone!

The corporations didn’t take over our government over night. WE as American voters allowed them to take it over piece by piece as long as we got what we wanted. CHEAP food, CHEAP cars, McMansions… and as many movie channels as we wanted to flood our brains with! We didn’t care for the guy down the street or next door or the reservation or ghetto that was polluted by our wink and nudge system of politics. Now its biting middle & upper class Americans in the back end. They are tasting a bit of what the lower classes in this country have been suffering from and they don’t like it. Well, then consider what you were willing to make the poor fight against. ALL those laws and permits and “application fees” that were put into place to sift them out of the process. NOW its being done to you. It sucks but it sucked when it was done to the lower classes too and you just didn’t care. The rooster has come home to roost and we are getting the government we deserve.

May 19, 2010 at 1:51 pm
(7) Mary says:

The whole system is a JOKE !! We can’t live without oil at this point, and need more “green” systems to come into play..If I knew of any, believe me, I’d let somebody know and get it moving..At this point, we need to stop the MAJOR leak that is killing animals, wild life and polluting OUR earth..(rich AND poor) Maybe Obama can stop more drilling for NOW, and demand the broken pipes get fixed immediately !!! ????

June 6, 2010 at 6:19 pm
(8) Grace Smith says:

Were the 20+ permits “approved” after April 20 or were they “issued” after April 20 for projects that had already been approved prior to that date? In reading info on the MMS site, it appears the moratorium applied to permits being approved after April 20 and on which drilling had not begun by May 6.
Whether or not all drilling should have come to a halt, is a question that has all manner of legal implications.

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