President Obama said Thursday he is halting or delaying new offshore drilling in the Arctic Ocean, off the Virginia coast, and in new deepwater wells in the Gulf of Mexico. Obama announced his moves at a midday news conference during which he strongly defended the federal government’s response to the Deepwater Horizon disaster.
He said the actions were a response to the findings of a 30-day Interior Department investigation into the causes of the Gulf of Mexico oil spill, a report that will detail specific new policies for further regulation of new offshore drilling. The president said he will halt most new offshore drilling until the final results of a full investigative review, to be performed by a separate independent commission, are complete. The decision came as news reports indicated BP was having some initial success in slowing the Gulf oil spill with its “top kill” attempt, which began Wednesday. But ominously, administration officials said the leak from the Deepwater Horizon disaster appears to be the nation’s worst ever, surpassing the 1989 Exxon Valdez spill in Alaska.
According to U.S. Geological Survey Director Marcia McNutt, 17 million to 28 million gallons have now flooded the gulf, making it already twice the size of the Exxon Valdez incident. The decision to suspend new offshore drilling for six months to one year, depending on location, and to cancel leases off the Virginia coast and in the western Gulf of Mexico, was hailed as a victory by environmentalists and many Democratic lawmakers. Drilling advocates said the halts would slow much-needed domestic oil production. Jack Gerard, president and CEO of the American Petroleum Institute, said the issue “is much larger than the oil industry, since access to affordable energy impacts every sector of our economy, every state in our nation and every American family.”
A moratorium on new offshore production “would create a moratorium on economic growth and job creation — especially in the Gulf States whose people and economies have already been most affected by the oil spill—by undercutting our nation’s access to affordable, reliable, domestic sources of oil and natural gas,” he said.