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Senators Urge Interior Secretary Salazar to Resume and Expedite Shallow Water Drilling Permits

WASHINGTON, D.C. - Today, a bipartisan group of U.S. Senators, led by Kay Bailey Hutchison (R-Texas) and Mary Landrieu (D-La.), urged the Department of the Interior to resume and expedite consideration of shallow water drilling applications and to provide adequate guidance to those seeking new permits.

Hutchison and Landrieu were joined by Sens. Wicker (R-Miss.), Cochran (R-Miss.), Vitter (R-La.), Cornyn (R-Texas), Sessions (R-Ala.), Murkowski (R-Alaska), Begich (D-Alaska), and Shelby (R-Ala.) in introducing a Senate resolution urging swift review of applications. The lawmakers also sent Interior Secretary Ken Salazar a letter, pressing the Department of the Interior to provide guidance to the shallow water industry as to how new requirements can be satisfied so the agency can resume the approval of shallow water permits.

Shallow water drilling was originally included in the Obama Administration's imposed an overall drilling moratorium on May 6, 2010. Though the moratorium on new shallow water permits was officially lifted on May 28, a de facto moratorium exists since only one new shallow water permit has been approved in the past 10 weeks. 

The Department of the Interior's new safety and environmental requirements have not been clearly outlined to shallow water operators. As a result, more than 35 percent of available shallow water drilling rigs in the Gulf of Mexico are offline and awaiting application approval. If shallow water permits continue to be held up, nearly 75 percent of the shallow water fleet will be without work by the end of the summer. Additionally, over 25,000 jobs are at risk in the Outer Continental Shelf if the Secretary does not take action to approve more applications. 

"Shallow water operators must abide by all safety and environmental regulations, but without clear guidance on how to meet those standards, they are being forced to shut down operations or are facing application delays. These bureaucratic delays are becoming a de facto moratorium on shallow water drilling, and they are hurting Gulf Coast communities and endangering American jobs," said Hutchison.

"It is vital to the economy in Louisiana and across the Gulf Coast that the Interior Department allow shallow water drilling to move forward quickly," Landrieu said.  "The moratorium on deepwater drilling is already devastating to the workers, businesses and communities whose economic well-being depends on safe oil and gas exploration. Idling the Gulf's shallow water rig fleet indefinitely would be another blow to a region that has already suffered enough during this unprecedented disaster."

"The administration's ban on deepwater drilling and its delays on shallow water permits further intensify the economic struggles felt by so many in the Gulf," said Wicker. "Although shallow water was excluded in Secretary Salazar's drilling suspension, the department bureaucrats clearly are dragging their feet on processing safe shallow water leases, creating a de facto moratorium. The livelihoods of Gulf Coast residents have been hit hard enough by this tragic oil spill, and they should not have to suffer another blow by the actions of this administration."

"It is time for words to be backed up with positive actions.  New regulatory hurdles on offshore energy production serve to contradict claims that the moratorium on shallow water operations has been lifted.  I hope the administration understands our concerns that a de facto moratorium is just as harmful to Gulf Coast jobs as an outright ban," Cochran said.

"This moratorium continues to threaten the long-term economic health of Louisiana and the Gulf Coast," said Vitter. "Now that the Interior Department has released new safety and environmental requirements, there's no good reason to continue delaying permits for the companies that comply with those requirements. The administration needs to act quickly and quit playing politics with the livelihoods of thousands of Gulf Coast residents."

"Shallow-water rigs have operated without a major incident for over 50 years. The Administration's overbearing, blanket ban on all drilling displays a gross misunderstanding of our domestic energy needs and will adversely affect our families suffering under a tough economy, including those 7,000 Americans employed by shallow-drilling rigs," said Cornyn.

"The disaster in the Gulf resulted in the tragic loss of human life and the greatest ecological disaster in American history. It is imperative that safety measures be implemented to ensure that such a horrific accident never occurs again. It is, however, also important that the Department of Interior clarify is regulations in a timely fashion to enable shallow-water energy exploration to continue. A review of procedures and implementation of new guidelines is reasonable, but the department needs to move expeditiously to provide regulatory certainty to energy producers so that Gulf Coast citizens can return to their jobs and critical energy production can continue," said Sessions.

"The administration's arbitrary moratoria has forced thousands of Americans out of work unnecessarily and done nothing to improve the safety of offshore drilling," said Murkowski, the top Republican on the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee. "The administration needs to focus on improving the safety of deepwater exploration, not send an entire industry, with its well-paid jobs and billions in revenue to the federal and local governments, packing to seek opportunities overseas."

"Alaskans are ready and willing to continue supplying America's energy needs with the enormous oil and natural gas reserves beneath our shallow Arctic coastal waters," Begich said. "It's unfortunate that development, which was poised for progress this summer, was side-lined by the disaster in the Gulf of Mexico. That's why I'm pleased to co-sponsor this sense of the Senate resolution urging a thorough but timely public process to get development in the Chukchi and Beaufort seas back on track."

"Red tape and bureaucracy have amounted to a de facto moratorium on shallow water drilling in the Gulf.  While drilling companies must comply with all safety standards, it is the Interior Department's responsibility to provide clarity on what exactly is required in a timely manner," said Shelby. "The Obama Administration needs to quit dragging its feet; our nation needs the energy produced by shallow water drilling and thousands of people in the Gulf rely on these jobs." 

Read the full text of the Senators' letter to Interior Secretary Ken Salazar here and their Senate Resolution here.

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