8 of 15 Experts Consulted by Obama Administration on Offshore Drilling Safety Report Were Not Informed of Moratorium Included in Recommendations--and Disagree With It

By Edwin Mora | June 21, 2010 | 7:13 PM EDT

Deepwater Horizon offshore drilling unit on fire (AP Photo)

(CNSNews.com) – Eight of the 15 experts consulted by the Interior Department for a report about oil drilling safety on the Outer Continental Shelf that was commissioned by President Barack Obama said they disagreed with the report’s call for a six-month halt on current deepwater offshore drilling operations--that was added to the text of the report without their knowledge only after they had reviewed the text. The eight experts outlined their objections in a June 8 letter to Louisiana Sens. Mary Landrieu (D) and David Vitter (R) and Gov. Bobby Jindal (R).

“A group of those named in the Secretary of Interior’s Report, 'Increased Safety Measures for Energy Development on the Outer Continental Shelf,' dated May 27, 2010 are concerned that our names are connected with the moratorium as proposed in the executive summary of that report,” the experts said in their letter.
“There is an implication that we have somehow agreed to or ‘peer reviewed’ the main recommendation of that report,” the eight experts wrote. “This is not the case.”
They added that “the scope of the moratorium on drilling which is in the executive summary differs in important ways from the recommendation in the draft which we reviewed.”

“We believe the report does not justify the moratorium as written and that the moratorium as changed will not contribute measurably to increased safety and will have immediate and long term economic effects," they wrote. "Indeed an argument can be made that the changes made in the wording are counterproductive to long term safety.”
The May 27 report opens with a brief discussion of the April 20 Deepwater Horizon oil rig explosion and subsequent oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico--the rig was leased by BP Global, and the company is currently working to try to cap the ongoing spill and clean up the Gulf areas affected.

Sen. Mary Landrieu (D-La.)

According to Interior Secretary Ken Salazar, the study was ordered by the president on April 30 to report, within 30 days, “on ‘what, if any, additional precautions and technologies should be required to improve the safety of oil and gas exploration and production operations on the outer continental shelf.’” In preparing the report, the DOI consulted with 15 oil and energy experts.
In an attachment to their June 8 letter criticizing the six-month moratorium on current deepwater offshore drilling operations and the modification of the report after they had reviewed it, the eight experts further said, “A blanket moratorium does not address the specific causes of this tragedy. We do not believe punishing the innocent is the right thing to do.”
“We encourage the Secretary of the Interior to overcome emotion with logic and to define what he means by a ‘blanket moratorium’ in such a way as to be consistent with the body of the report and the interests of the nation.”
One of the experts who wrote to Landrieu, Vitter, and Jindal was Kenneth E. Arnold, who served on the board of the Society of Petroleum Engineers and is a member of the National Academy of Engineers.
He spoke with CNSNews.com, saying, “There was a moratorium that was added at the last minute. The basic report, we think it’s a very good report. We think the moratorium actually adds risk. It doesn’t decrease risk.”
Arnold added that "we did not have a chance to present that argument to the Department of Interior before the report was published.
“But we are in discussions with the Department of Interior now," said Arnold, "and we are presenting that argument and explaining why we feel the way we do from a technical standpoint, and what we think can be done to modify the moratorium to actually increase safety in the Gulf of Mexico."
Arnold also told CNSNews.com that the Interior Department has sent letters to all the experts who contributed to the Interior report "apologizing for giving the impression by accident" that they all approved of the blanket moratorium, "saying it was solely his [Secretary Salazar’s] decision and he apologized for giving the impression that they supported that decision.”"
In the attachment, the eight experts explained how the report “was modified.” They wrote: “We broadly agree with the detailed recommendations in the report and compliment the Department of Interior for its efforts. However, we do not agree with the six-month blanket moratorium on floating drilling. A moratorium was added after the final review and was never agreed to by the contributors.
“The draft which we reviewed stated: ‘Along with the specific recommendations outlined in the body of the report, Secretary Salazar recommends a 6-month moratorium on permits for new exploratory wells with a depth of 1,000 feet or greater.’”

BP oil spill (AP Photo)

They further quoted the draft, “‘In addition, Secretary Salazar recommends a temporary pause in all current drilling operations for a sufficient length of time to perform additional blowout preventer function and pressure testing ...’”
“Unfortunately,” they also wrote, “after the review the conclusion was modified to read: ‘The Secretary also recommends temporarily halting certain permitting and drilling activities. First, the Secretary recommends a six-month moratorium on permits for new wells being drilled using floating rigs. The Secretary further recommends an immediate halt to drilling operations on the 33 permitted wells, not including the relief wells currently being drilled by BP, that are currently being drilled using floating rigs in the Gulf of Mexico. Drilling operations should cease as soon as safely practicable for a 6-month period.'”
In a June 9 hearing of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, Landrieu (D-La.) said to Secretary Salazar: “In the appendix of this report, May 27th, it lists the names of 15 experts that you consulted with on your report.
“I received a letter yesterday from eight of them, a majority, that say they disagree with your decision to impose the six-month moratoria. In their words, the report does not justify the moratoria as written. The moratorium, as changed, will not contribute measurably to increase safety and will have an immediate and long-term economic effect,” she added.

“These experts believe--and I agree--that this report includes some important recommendations,” Landrieu told Salazar. “But I don't believe--like they don't believe--that this temporary pause, if it lasts very much longer than a few months--not six, just a few months--it could potentially wreck economic havoc on this region that exceeds the havoc wrecked by the spill itself.”

In response, Salazar said, “First, the experts that were involved in crafting the report gave us their recommendation and their input. And I very much appreciate those recommendations. It was not their decision on the moratorium; it was my decision and the president's decision to move forward with the moratorium. But I do appreciate the experts and their involvement and their point of view.”
Jindal was also critical of Salazar for calling for a six-month ban on offshore drilling, telling reporters last week: “The experts that Secretary Salazar asked for counsel, eight of the 15 have said they never saw the six-month moratorium before it was added to the report that they signed on to. Eight of the 15 have written to me and written to others, saying they don’t recommend the six-month moratorium.”  

In responding to CNSNews.com’s request to explain why the Interior Department’s report recommendations were modified to include the six-month moratorium without the knowledge of all the experts, Kendra Barkoff, a spokeswoman at the DOI, said it was not the department's intention to make it seem that all the experts supported the drilling ban.
“By listing the members of the NAE that peer-reviewed the 22 safety recommendations contained in the report, we didn't mean to imply that they also agreed with the moratorium on deepwater drilling,” Barkoff told CNSNews.com in an e-mail. 
“We acknowledge that they were not asked to review or comment on the proposed moratorium and that they peer-reviewed the report on a technical basis,” she said. “The moratorium on deepwater drilling is based on the need for a comprehensive review of safety in deepwater operations in light of the BP oil spill.”
In a telephone interview with CNSNews.com, Rep. Steve Scalise (R.), who represents the 1st District of Louisiana, the state most affected by the BP oil spill, explained why he wants Obama to lift the six-month moratorium on deepwater oil drilling.
Obama’s “reaction to [the oil spill] has been misguided and, in fact, it does more damage to those of us in the Gulf south because now not only are our fishermen and our other seafood industry people that are unemployed because of this, not only do we have the loss of life that we experienced, but now the president is shutting down an entire industry and doing devastation to our economy in the Gulf Coast,” said Scalise.
“I think the president’s ban on drilling will have devastating consequences not just to those of us in South Louisiana and across the Gulf Coast, but to the entire country because now the president has jeopardized America’s energy independence,” said Scalise.
Scalise also acknowledged that the moratorium “goes against” the recommendations made by the majority of the experts who contributed to Obama’s oil spill commission report. 
For example, in the attachment to their June 8 letter, the eight energy experts wrote: “The US offshore industry is vital to our energy needs. It provides 30% of our oil production, is the second largest source of revenue to the US Government ($6 Billion per year), and has a direct employment of 150,000 individuals.”
“A blanket moratorium will have the indirect effect of harming thousands of workers and further impact state and local economies suffering from the spill,” they wrote. “We would in effect be punishing a large swath of people who were and are acting responsibly and are providing a product the nation demands.”
Scalise told CNSNews.com: “You’ve got the president shutting down an entire industry, which is going to result in over 40,000 people unemployed in Louisiana that, right now, have good jobs, and it’s going to make our country more dependent on Middle Eastern oil.”
Rather than banning offshore oil drilling, Scalise suggested that inspectors be sent “to every single rig that’s out there.”
“You’re going to find those that are doing things right, those that are playing by the rules should be able to continue doing what they’re doing--not harming the environment--they’re actually protecting their workers and producing energy for this country,” explained Scalise.