Port Fourchon, Louisiana (AFP) April 20, 2011
Drilling is picking up in the Gulf of Mexico a year after the BP Deepwater Horizon oil disaster -- a relief for those dependent on the offshore industry but a worry for environmentalists.
It took 87 days for the British energy giant to cap its runaway well after the April 20, 2010 blowout, which killed 11 workers and caused the biggest maritime oil spill in history.
President Barack Obama imposed a temporary moratorium on deepwater drilling five weeks into the spill as efforts to contain the leak 5,000 feet (1.5 kilometers) below the surface failed.
There was immediate anger from Louisiana residents and politicians, who said the moratorium would do more damage than the spill by choking off domestic oil supplies and the region's best-paying jobs.
"When we have other tragedies - when we have airlines that crash, we don't shut down the airline industry," Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal said Wednesday as he urged federal regulators to speed rigs back to work.
"We want more domestic oil production. We obviously want it to be done safely," he told a press conference in the hard-hit beach town of Grand Isle.
"The less drilling that happens over here, all that means is more money going overseas to countries that aren't necessarily friendly to us."
The economic impact was blunted by the jobs created by BP's massive spill response -- which cost 13.6 billion dollars -- and the fact that layoffs were limited as most companies didn't want to let go of skilled workers in a competitive industry.
There's no doubt the moratorium dented the development of domestic oil supplies after drilling at 33 deepwater sites was halted and regulators clamped down on permits in shallower waters.
The moratorium was lifted in October once new safety rules were implemented -- including a requirement that operators provide a containment plan for deepwater blowouts -- but the first deepwater permit was not issued until February. Just nine others have been issued since then.
Offshore oil production along the continental United States is expected to fall 13 percent to an average of 1.55 million barrels per day in 2011, according to the US Energy Information Administration.
And production isn't expected to return to pre-spill levels until 2014, the government agency said.
"They're not letting us get back to work and the country is going to feel it," said Mike Fesi, president of Pipeline Construction & Maintenance.
"We're importing too much oil day-by-day when we have the resources here that we can use."
Activity in the Gulf can be measured by the number of boats passing through the industry hub of Port Fourchon. There used to be about 270 a day. Now it's about half that.
"The backlog in the issuance of permits is uncalled for," port president Chett Chaisson said as he showed AFP some of the ships docked for months due to the lack of work.
"From the day after the tragic incident when 11 people died this industry was safer," he said.
But it's not clear if the industry is safe enough.
A presidential commission tasked with investigating the spill found that lax government oversight, a cozy -- sometimes corrupt -- relationship between regulators and the industry, and a weak safety culture contributed to a deadly series of mistakes.
While the Interior Department restructured operations and issued tough new safety regulations, it still lacks the expertise and the funding to properly oversee the increasingly complex offshore industry.
Congress has not implemented any of the commission's recommendations and Republicans are pushing bills to expand offshore drilling in the Arctic, the Atlantic and off of California.
Some proposals would allow big oil companies to sidestep environmental analysis.
"Our energy demand has not abated and, until we get serious about really reducing our (oil) use, the demand is going to overwhelm everything else form a political side," said Frances Beinecke, president of the Natural Resources Defense Council.
"That's why it's so critical that the safeguards are in place," Beinecke told AFP. "Are we safer? I think we are. Can I say to you that oil spills will be prevented in the future? No."
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A year after BP spill, Obama vows to restore Gulf
New Orleans, Louisiana (AFP) April 20, 2011
Mourners bowed their heads at vigils Wednesday to mark the first anniversary of the massive blowout on BP's Deepwater Horizon rig, which unleashed the biggest maritime oil spill in history and blackened beaches from Texas to Florida. President Barack Obama vowed to do "whatever is necessary" to restore the US Gulf Coast and to "hold BP and other responsible parties fully accountable for the ... read more
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