US energy leaders warn against new offshore drilling ban

03 May 2010 18:22  [Source: ICIS news]

US energy leaders caution against banWASHINGTON (ICIS news)--US oil and natural gas industry officials on Monday cautioned that the expanding disaster of the Gulf of Mexico oil spill should not trigger new offshore drilling bans, saying there should be no “rush to judgement”.

As environmental and other interest groups cited the Deepwater Horizon rig explosion and wellhead collapse as reason enough to re-impose of offshore drilling ban, the American Petroleum Institute (API) voiced caution.

“In the wake of this accident, many people are understandably concerned about the safety and environmental risks associated with offshore drilling,” said API spokeswoman Cathy Landry.

“But we should be careful not to rush to judgement on this issue until we’ve learned what went wrong,” she added.

“It would be unfortunate if this accident were used as an excuse to roll back the gains we have made in finding new ways to explore and develop our own energy resources,” she said.

But various environmental and other interest groups have renewed calls for re-imposition of the broad offshore oil and gas drilling ban that barred energy development in some 85% of US outer continental shelf (OCS) regions for nearly 30 years.

That OCS drilling ban - which affected US offshore regions along the nation’s Atlantic and Pacific coasts and for much of Alaska’s coastline - was allowed to expire in late 2008 when record-high domestic gasoline prices made the congressional and presidential drilling moratoria politically untenable.

The US petrochemical industry and downstream chemical makers - along with a broad coalition of other manufacturing interests - had lobbied long and hard for an end to the offshore drilling bans. The US chemicals sector in particular is heavily dependent on natural gas, much of it produced offshore, as a feedstock and energy fuel.

However, Greenpeace executive director Philip Radford said the Gulf oil rig accident demonstrated that “The only way to prevent human, economic and environmental tragedies like the BP Deepwater Horizon disaster is to re-enact the moratorium on offshore drilling and to replace dirty, dangerous fuels with clean energy.”

The Center for Biological Diversity (CBD) said that the Gulf catastrophe dispels claims that offshore drilling is safe.

“The Gulf of Mexico disaster has shown with tragic clarity the absurdity of the claims by the oil industry and politicians beholden to that industry that offshore oil and gas development is safe,” said Miyoko Sakashita, CBD’s oceans programme director.

“We call on President Obama and Interior Secretary Ken Salazar to reinstitute a moratorium on new offshore oil leasing, exploration and development on all our coasts,” Sakashita said.

The Sierra Club's executive director Michael Brune said the Gulf rig explosion and resulting oil spill “is a turning point for America”.

“Sadly, we are now witnessing one of the worst environmental disasters in American history,” Brune said, “and we will be dealing with the impacts of BP’s drilling rig collapse for decades to come.”

“We need assurance that this won’t happen again,” he added.  “We need to restore the federal moratorium on drilling off America’s most fragile coasts immediately.”

But the API’s Landry said that the US simply could not afford to abandon its offshore energy resources.

“This incident does not change the reality of our energy future,” she said.  “The demand for energy is growing. American needs domestic sources, and oil and gas will be part of America’s energy future for decades to come.”

“We must safely and responsibly pursue domestic energy production,” she added.

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