Photo: mikebaird, Flickr, CC
If there was anything that Obama impressed upon the American public in the wake of the explosion on the Deepwater Horizon oil rig, it was that if offshore drilling was to continue, it must be safer and better scrutinized. A few months ago, the administration said that it would require every oil company seeking to drill to pass a strict environmental review before getting the go-ahead from the feds. But it appears that this isn't quite the case for every drilling project -- news just broke that 13 companies will be allowed to drill under the same environmental review standards that stood before the BP Gulf spill. These 13 companies, which include the likes of Chevron and Shell, were already drilling their wells without detailed environmental impact studies before the Deepwater blew, and are therefore exempt from the new environmental review standards, the administration says. The AP reports that 10 of those 13 are drilling exploratory wells; the same kind that BP was drilling when disaster struck.
The companies still must comply with other revised policies and standards, such as the new safety rules and specific requirements for equipment like blowout preventers (the device that notoriously failed after the explosion that caused the BP spill).
But the companies nonetheless get to skirt the full environmental review Obama promised offshore drilling projects would have to face, and mostly due to political reasons: The administration has been under persistent pressure to ease up its stance on drilling from politicians in the Gulf and from the GOP in general.
As the AP notes, "The decision is a victory for the drilling companies, which in the past had routinely won broad waivers from rules requiring detailed environmental studies. After the BP disaster, the Obama administration pledged it would require companies to complete environmental reviews before being allowed to drill for oil."
While this development is indeed quite disappointing, it doesn't mean that drilling will resume right away. The NRDC hastens to point out that this "doesn't exempt the thirteen companies it covers from complying with the new safety rules," and that oil companies will still be required to recalculate their worst-case oil spill impacts -- and will most likely be forced to upgrade their cleanup and contingency plans as a result. The NRDC expects that this will keep most of those companies from drilling for a good while yet.
Nonetheless, it's disappointing to see the Obama admin cave on such a freshly outlined rule, especially when the lessons learned from the BP spill are still front and center.
More on Offshore Drilling and the BP Spill
Why Did the Obama Admin Exempt the Deepwater Horizon From Environmental Reviews?
Why the BP Spill Hasn't Invigorated Environmentalism