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US has approved 19 environmental drilling waivers since oil spill

By John Byrne
Monday, May 24, 2010 8:48 EDT
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On May 14, President Barack Obama announced that oil companies would no longer be given license to bypass environmental reviews of their drilling projects.

“We’re also closing the loophole that has allowed some oil companies to bypass some critical environmental reviews,” Obama said.

But in the month since the BP-run Deepwater Horizon (above right) exploded and collapsed into the sea, its drill site spewing an unending current of oil into the open ocean, the US government has granted at least 19 environmental waivers for gulf drilling projects and 17 drilling permits. Most are for deepwater drilling operations, similar to that conducted by the ill-fated rig.

“At least six of the drilling projects that have been given waivers in the past four weeks are for waters that are deeper — and therefore more difficult and dangerous — than where Deepwater Horizon was operating,” the New York Times‘ Ian Urbina wrote Monday. “While that rig, which was drilling at a depth just shy of 5,000 feet, was classified as a deep-water operation, many of the wells in the six projects are classified as “ultra” deep water, including four new wells at over 9,100 feet.”

“In explaining why they were still granting new permits for certain types of drilling on existing wells, Department of the Interior officials said some of the procedures being allowed are necessary for the safety of the existing wellbore,” Urbina added.

A wellbore refers to the hole created in the drilling process used for the extraction of oil.

The Interior Department’s Ken Salazar, testifying before Congress, said his department has been limited in contesting drilling efforts because of a statute which requires his agency to respond within 30 days of applications being submitted.

“That is what has driven a number of the categorical exclusions that have been given over time in the gulf,” Salazar said.

Urbina notes that the drill projects which have received waivers have yet to begin drilling. But, he says, “these waivers have been especially troublesome to environmentalists because they were granted through a special legal provision that is supposed to be limited to projects that present minimal or no risk to the environment.”

 
 
 
 
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