Consequence of the explosion of the Deepwater Horizon oil platform: The U.S. government wants to permit oil exploration only if environmental impacts have been examined.
Will soon be operated with "full knowledge of the potential consequences for the environment": Oil platforms. Image: reuters
The days when state authorities gave the go-ahead for offshore oil drilling are to be over in the United States: As a consequence of the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, the Obama administration has tightened environmental regulations. "Our decisions must be made with full knowledge of the potential consequences for the environment," Interior Secretary Ken Salazar said Monday.
Deepwater drilling operations in the Gulf of Mexico have been suspended since the sinking of the Deepwater Horizon oil rig on April 22. They are to be allowed again, but the approval procedures are to become more extensive. Previously, the U.S. authorities had approved drilling applications in a fast-track procedure – in 30 days at the most. In addition, Minerals Management Services (MMS), which is linked to the oil industry and now operates under a new name, exempted oil companies from environmental assessments for entire drilling regions if a well had already been approved in a comparable area. The approval of the Macondo accident well was also based on such general exemptions, which dated back to 19. BP obtained the special release for the well in April 2009. The company had assured that it was unlikely that oil would leak – and if it did, it would cause little damage. After the sinking of the Deepwater Horizon platform, at least 200 million liters of oil leaked into the water – five times the amount of oil from the tanker Exxon Valdez.
"In light of the increasing complexity and risks associated with deepwater drilling, we are re-evaluating the (…) process and environmental requirements for offshore activities," Interior Secretary Salazar now stated. The environmental organization Center for Biological Diversity welcomed the measure as a "step in the right direction." In the New York Times, an expert from the organization said the stricter rules should also be applied to wells already in operation. For example, U.S. environmental organizations estimate that oil is flowing into the Gulf of Mexico from some 20,000 former wells.
Louisiana crabbers were allowed to take their cutters out there again for the first time on Monday. But the "back to normal" message issued by authorities has been eclipsed by uncertainty among many fishermen. They question whether the National Oceanic Administration’s tests were extensive enough. They fear that residues of oil or the oil degradant Correxit are in the food chain after all. This fear is being fed by the University of South Florida. 13 scientists have discovered toxic traces of oil in microorganisms in water samples from the seabed off the Gulf Coast in the last ten days, reported the TV channel CNN. They fear that the toxin is entering the food chain through plankton and bacteria, rather than being digested by fish as claimed by the ocean agency. BP now wants to pay for the psychological processing of the damage to thousands of fishermen: the company wants to release 52 million dollars to give the fishermen psychological support.