May 27, 2010 7:35 AM by Sharlee Jacobs
WASHINGTON (AP) - Escalating his administration's response to
the disastrous Gulf oil spill, President Barack Obama plans to
announce Thursday that a moratorium on new deepwater oil drilling
permits will be continued for six months while a presidential
commission investigates, a White House aide said.
Controversial lease sales off the coast of Alaska will be
delayed pending the results of the commission's investigation, and
lease sales planned in the Western Gulf and off the coast of
Virginia will be canceled, the aide said, speaking on condition of
anonymity ahead of a midday Obama news conference.
Shell Oil was poised to begin exploratory drilling this summer
on Arctic leases as far as 140 miles offshore.
Those steps, along with new oversight and safety standards also
to be announced, are the results of a 30-day safety review of
offshore drilling conducted by Interior Secretary Ken Salazar at
Obama's direction. Salazar briefed Obama on its conclusions
Wednesday night in the Oval Office, the aide said.
With the moves, Obama is exerting control over the response to
the five-week-old spill amid growing criticism about leadership
from the White House even as BP's efforts to stop the leak are
finally showing promise after a series of failures.
The new announcements also could be an early sign of a
fundamental shift in the administration's policies on offshore
drilling, which Obama promoted and hoped to expand prior to the
April 20 explosion of a drilling rig off the Gulf Coast. The
accident killed 11 people and unleashed a gusher of crude that's
now begun to wash up on land and cripple seabirds.
The exact causes of the accident are not determined but
congressional investigators have released details suggesting BP
ignored warning signs of instability in the exploratory well they
were attempting to cap when the explosion occurred.
Obama, who on Saturday appointed a presidential commission to
conduct a wide-ranging, six-month investigation of the causes of
the spill, will travel to the Gulf Coast on Friday, his second
visit since the accident.
Thursday's announcement and news conference in the East Room
represents the first time he's opening himself to extensive media
questioning since the accident occurred.
For all his power to make such rules, however, the president
must depend mainly on the company that was leasing the Deepwater
Horizon drilling rig when the explosion occurred. BP PLC began a
new effort Wednesday to plug the mile-deep well with heavy drilling
mud, a tactic never before tried at such depths. The company hoped
to know by Thursday afternoon whether the tactic would finally slow
the oil; as of Wednesday night executives reported no problems so
The maneuver's success would prove enormously welcome to the
Gulf region, of course, but also to the White House, Congress,
federal agencies and other institutions that share responsibility
for oversight, regulation and what went wrong.
At the Capitol on Thursday, lawmakers will grill various
officials at five congressional hearings. Topics will include the
Gulf spill's environmental damage, the administration's response
and the impact on small businesses.
On Wednesday, Salazar told the House Natural Resources Committee
that lax oversight of oil companies dates to the administration of
Republican President George W. Bush.
"Essentially whatever it is they wanted is what they got,"
GOP Rep. Doug Lamborn of Colorado asked when Obama's team would
stop blaming problems on an administration that left office 16
months ago. Salazar replied that the federal Minerals Management
Service, while heavily criticized lately, is still not "the candy
store of the industry, which you and others were a part of."