Obama’s Moratorium on Offshore Oil Drilling is Killing the Gulf’s Economy

There’s a crisis coming--and the administration has yet to reveal how it plans to deal with it.

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The leak in the Deepwater Horizon well is plugged. What many predicted would be the worst environmental disaster in modern history is fizzling out, already beginning to fade into the recess of memory. Almost.

There is still some clean up work to be done, not just of the oil that remains, but of the economic damage that the government’s response to the spill has done to the Gulf region.

[Check out a roundup of editorial cartoons on the Gulf oil spill.]

By some estimates nearly 50,000 workers on the frontlines of the oil industry and another 150,000 in supporting positions have been thrown out of work by the Obama administration’s continual pursuit of a moratorium on offshore drilling. Many of these are the oft mentioned “good jobs at good wages” that the political class likes to talk about so much. In addition the moratorium has taken off line, by some estimates, the amount of oil imported each year from the Middle East.

The agency charged with coming up with recommendations--the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, Regulation and Enforcement (former the U.S. Minerals Management Service)--along with the president’s OCS Commission are in the midst of field hearings where the testimony taken will be used to develop recommendations. Unfortunately these hearings, the first of which was held in Mobile, Ala., on Monday, are not structured in a way to allow the public to give its input into what, going forward, should be done.

In a letter currently collecting signatures on Capitol Hill, members of Congress are asking Interior Secretary Ken Salazar to make immediate changes to the hearing process. “We are very concerned,” the letter says, “that participation at the forums is restricted solely to the ‘experts’ that you have chosen to sit on panels for a moderated discussion and does not allow interested stakeholders or citizens any opportunity to provide meaningful input into this important discussion.”

Like you, we want to find out what happened in the Gulf of Mexico on April 20th, learn from this tragic accident, and ensure appropriate changes to offshore processes and regulations are made so we are better prepared to address any future oil spills. We also agree with President Obama that ensuring the long-term viability of offshore oil and gas exploration and production is a vital component of both our national energy picture and our overall economic health. To achieve these worthy ends, we call on you to change course--as it relates to the remaining BOEM forums--and permit a more responsible, robust, and thorough dialogue between experts, local stakeholders, concerned citizens, and the Department of the Interior.

There’s a crisis coming--and the administration has yet to reveal how it plans to deal with it.
 Looking at the problem rationally, the first step is to lift the moratorium before further economic damage is done while developing a plan allowing the resumption of new exploration on the Outer Continental Shelf.

Any plan to bring things on line will have to focus on ways to allow reasonable and safe exploration and production of U.S. energy resources to continue before the capacity to do so is shut down to the point that it cannot be restarted quickly. It is hard to see, however, how such a plan can be developed without the input of the people directly involved: the oil workers, support personnel, merchants, activists, and community leaders who are most directly affected by the moratorium on off-shore drilling and who have the most to lose if it remains in effect much longer.