With release of new deepwater regulations, many hope drilling moratorium will end soon

Brett Michael Dykes

Last night the Interior Department  released a new set of requirements for oil companies hoping to drill off the U.S. shore in deep waters. Many hope that the release will signal an end to the deepwater drilling moratorium the Obama administration instituted weeks after the April 20 Deepwater Horizon explosion — a move that's proven hugely unpopular in the Gulf Coast region, which relies extensively on the oil industry.

Interior debuted two basic new regulations: "the drilling safety rule" and "the workplace safety rule." Under the drilling safety rule, the department will institute tougher standards for the use of drilling fluids and the processes involved with well-bore casing and cementing. The rule will also require oil companies to improve blowout-preventer technology.

The workplace safety rule, meanwhile, calls on oil companies to come up with more effective plans to deal with accidents and spills.

"We are substantially raising the standards for all offshore operators, and are doing it in an orderly and responsible way," Michael Bromwich, director of Interior's Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, Regulation and Enforcement, said about the new standards. "We will continue to move forward with other changes and reforms in what will remain a dynamic regulatory environment. We owe the public nothing less."

Louisiana Democratic Senator Mary Landrieu — who's pledged to block an Obama appointee until the ban ends — has railed against the moratorium, claiming  that it's caused "tremendous economic hardship" in her state. Virtually every other statewide official in Louisiana has taken the same stance against the moratorium. But the White House appears determined to wait until it can ascertain that the industry intends to take the new rules to heart before reversing the moratorium.

"There are a series of technological and safety reforms that this administration is very serious about implementing," said White House spokesman Robert Gibbs. Those measure "need to be implemented and secured prior to the lifting of that moratorium," he stressed.

(Photo of Michael Bromwich and Interior Secretary Ken Salazar: AP)