A ban on deep-water drilling, originally set to last one month but extended to a six-month period by President Barack Obama on May 27 because of the extent of the disastrous oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, was ruled too punitive against oil companies and dismissed by a federal judge Tuesday in New Orleans.
“There are things the administration could implement today that would allow the industry to go back to work tomorrow without an arbitrary six-month time limit,” said Steven Newman, CEO of Transocean Ltd., which owned the ill-fated Deepwater Horizon oil rig that exploded April 20, at a conference of oil industry leaders in London earlier this week.
The ruling by U.S. District Judge Martin Feldman was in response to a challenge of the U.S. Department of the Interior’s deep-sea drilling ban by Hornbeck Offshore Services LLC and more than a dozen other companies involved in offshore drilling.
With limited experience drilling at such depths and continuous flows of new information detailing the industry’s inability to prevent and prepare for a similar catastrophe, this ruling is irrational and should be overruled by an appeals court.
Only affecting 33 exploratory wells, this ban would have given scientists and investigators more time to determine the true nature of deep-water drilling’s safety and would not have affected existing wells in the gulf.
In a confidential study conducted by Transocean last year, the blowout preventer, which was installed and failed to prevent disaster on the Deepwater Horizon, failed test runs 45 percent of the time, according to a report in the New York Times.
During a congressional hearing last week, U.S. lawmakers referred to the oil industry’s deepwater disaster plans as “cookie cutter” and “virtually worthless.”
“We’ve never represented anything different than that. That’s why emphasis is always on preventing these things from occurring because when they happen we are not very well equipped to deal with them,” Exxon’s CEO Rex Tillerson said to lawmakers in response to the industry’s lack of deep-sea oil spill preparation.
“Two other plans are such dead ringers for BP’s that they list a phone number for the same long-dead expert,” Rep. Edward Markey of Massachusetts said at the hearing, referring to BP’s 2009 response plan that listed the phone number of professor Peter Lutz of the University of Miami, who died in 2005.
Only in operation since 2001, the Deepwater Horizon rig became the deepest oil well in history less than a year ago.
Considering how young the practice of drilling at such depths is, more time is needed to study necessary safety measures and their fallibilities.
The Obama administration has already announced its plan to rightfully appeal the ruling.
Oil companies temporarily losing revenue from not operating deep-sea rigs does not outweigh the potential cost of having insufficient time to understand their impact.