Senators push Salazar to allow shallow-water drilling

WASHINGTON – Senators Thad Cochran and Roger Wicker (R-Miss.) are among a bipartisan group of lawmakers who are putting pressure on the Department of the Interior to allow shallow water energy development in the Gulf of Mexico.

The Mississippi lawmakers were among a group who signed a letter to Interior Secretary Ken Salazar asking that the Interior Department provide the shallow water industry with information on how to adhere to new safety regulations issued after the Obama administration lifted a moratorium on shallow water drilling.

In conjunction with the letter, Cochran and Wicker also co-sponsored a Senate resolution that outlines the impact on jobs and economic activity due to ongoing delays for shallow water operations and that encourages the Interior Department to resume and expedite consideration of shallow water drilling applications.

“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.

Although the administration lifted a moratorium on shallow water production, new Interior Department safety and environmental requirements have not been outlined clearly to the shallow water operators, thus causing delays in the approval of new lease permits. Only one new shallow water permit has been approved since May 28, 2010.

The Senate resolution states that as a result of Interior Department actions, 35 percent of available shallow water drilling rigs in the Gulf of Mexico are offline and awaiting application approval. It also states that 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 Interior Secretary does not take action to approve more applications.

The resolution and letter were authored by Senators Kay Bailey Hutchison (R-Texas) and Mary Landrieu (D-La.). In addition to Cochran and Wicker, both were signed by Senators David Vitter (R-La.), John Cornyn (R-Texas), Jeff Sessions (R-Ala.), Richard Shelby (R-Ala.), Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) and Mark Begich (D-Alaska).

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