Republican lawmakers to feds: Stop sidelining drillers

When the Obama administration announced new safety rules for offshore drilling today, officials mostly dodged the tricky question of when the government will lift its ban on deep-water exploration.

The ban is set to expire Nov. 30, but the nation’s top drilling regulator is expected today to recommend that Interior Secretary Ken Salazar lift it early.

Rep. Kevin Brady, R-Texas, said that the continued moratorium — along with today’s rules and others that will be proposed soon — set the stage for an extended delay in offshore drilling.

“The White House appears in no rush to let our energy workers get back on the job,” Brady said in a phone call with reporters. “They want energy workers to suit up for the game, but they won’t let them on the field to play.”

(That football analogy has been adopted by other drilling advocates today. Jim Noe, of Hercules Offshore, said the industry was prepared to advance 15 yards if necessary to make a first down, but “this constant moving of the goal post is a problem.”)

Although shallow-water drilling is allowed to continue under the ban, there has been a slowdown in permitting those projects as companies try to prove they meet new safety standards and comply with a requirement for describing the worst-case scenario for a blown-out well’s discharge.

Brady said he was worried the same fate awaits deep-water projects when the ban ends.

“Every day that we see a delay in both the de facto moratorium in shallow waters and the existing moratorium in deep water is causing greater and more significant economic damage,” he said.

Although many companies are holding onto workers and riding out the moratorium, that is unsustainable, Brady said. “I’m convinced job losses will mount as the moratorium continues, he said. “I think larger companies are beginning to weigh decisions that would divert jobs, equipment and investment . . . outside of the Gulf.”

Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, said the administration was “holding Gulf Coast jobs hostage” by keeping the moratorium in place.

“I support and welcome new rules to improve drilling safety requirements, but today’s announcement was disappointing,” Cornyn said in a statement. “The administration offers no answers, no certainty months after the shutdown of this vital Gulf industry. In Texas and along the Gulf Coast, this drilling moratorium is unnecessarily devastating to those people who are still out of work and struggling to provide for their families.”

Rep. Doc Hastings, R-Wash., the top GOP member of the House Natural Resources Committee, questioned why the administration announced new rules “but still refuses to say when the arbitrary, non-science-based moratorium will be lifted.”

“When will the administration actually begin issuing permits?” Hastings asked.”When will people in the Gulf be allowed to return to work?”

Hastings said that if the government doesn’t clearly outline the new requirements, there could be damaging, long- term delays when the ban expires.

“New rules by this administration must be clear, concise, enforceable, and, most importantly, enable energy production to immediately resume in the Gulf,” he said. “Otherwise, a de facto moratorium could remain in place for years that will cause more American job losses and more companies moving operations overseas.”