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Drilling in Gulf of Mexico Is Cleared to Resume, But Under New Safety Rules

Deepwater oil and gas drilling can resume in the Gulf of Mexico. The Obama administration announced Tuesday that it would lift the moratorium it imposed on new wells deeper than 500 feet following the April 20 Deepwater Horizon oil-rig explosion.

The Wall Street Journal reports, however, that new conditions will have to be satisfied before work can resume. One of the key requirements: Chief executives of rig-operator companies must certify to the government that they comply with all safety regulations, and operators must demonstrate they have the equipment to contain a deepwater well blowout.

The Interior Department also emphasized, in a statement, that it intends to institute more rules aimed at preventing deepwater blowouts. “We have more work to do in our reform agenda, but at this point we believe the strengthened safety measures we have implemented, along with improved spill response and blowout containment capabilities, have reduced risks to a point where operators who play by the rules and clear the higher bar can be allowed to resume,” Interior Secretary Ken Salazar said.

The lifting of the drilling moratorium, which had been scheduled to end Nov. 30, takes effect immediately. It became an election-season political headache for the Obama administration, the Journal noted. The ban drew fire from the energy industry and others, including Democrats, who complained that it worsened the Gulf Coast region’s economic distress.

According to The New York Times, officials said some rigs are expected to resume operating in the gulf by the end of the year, after new inspections are carried out and new permits are approved.

Environmentalists expressed concern that enough safeguards are not yet in place to prevent another disastrous spill. The Times quoted Dan Favre, communications director of the advocacy group Gulf Restoration Network , saying that the administration’s decision “again puts the region at risk,” even as the BP spill cleanup and restoration are still under way.

The Deepwater Horizon accident killed 11 and led to the release of almost 5 million barrels of oil into the gulf, making it the largest offshore oil spill in American history.

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