WASHINGTON — The Obama administration may let certain deepwater drilling operations in the Gulf of Mexico resume during a six-month halt, Interior Secretary Ken Salazar said Wednesday.
Rules "will include the criteria under which it is appropriate to take a look at the lifting of the moratoria," Salazar said at a hearing of a Senate Appropriations Committee panel.
A six-month halt to deepwater exploration, imposed last month by President Barack Obama in response to the BP spill, was overturned Tuesday by U.S. District Judge Martin Feldman in New Orleans. The administration said it will appeal the decision, and Salazar announced he will reformulate the rules. Republicans and Gulf Coast Democrats have said the ban is too broad and jeopardizes tens of thousands of jobs.
In his ruling, Feldman said the administration must "cogently explain why it has exercised its discretion in a given manner. It has not done so."
Meanwhile, the new head of the Interior Department agency regulating offshore drilling said Wednesday that he created an investigations unit to help with oversight, enforcement and reorganization. "The new unit will provide us the capacity to investigate allegations of misconduct, to provide unified and coordinated monitoring of compliance with laws and regulations, and to respond swiftly to emerging and urgent issues," Michael Bromwich said in a statement issued as he testified before a Senate hearing on the reorganization.
Scientists focus less on the loop current
For weeks federal scientists have kept a close eye on the Gulf of Mexico's loop current, which wraps around Florida, watching as oil from the Deepwater Horizon disaster was caught in its flow and then branched off into an eddy. They regularly included its position in their forecast of where oil might end up.Then, on Friday, they stopped.
"It's essentially dissipated to the point where it's not actionable," Doug Helton of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration explained this week.
There may still be scattered tar balls caught in the current, Helton said, but that's all. The rest has either evaporated or dissolved.
The oil slick is about 300 miles from the loop current, and thus unlikely to wind up down by the Florida Keys anytime soon.
In May, scientists feared that plumes of crude oil would get caught in the loop current and be carried to the Keys and beyond, damaging coral reefs and killing wildlife along the Atlantic Coast.
But once oil did get caught in the loop, it didn't go near the Keys. Instead, it was trapped in an eddy that pinched off from the main loop current, and it wound up circling like a NASCAR racer in a slow-motion derby.
Aquarium plans to reflect disaster
DES MOINES, Iowa — A new exhibit at an aquarium in Iowa that had intended to showcase the beauty of the Gulf of Mexico will instead be void of life to underline the environmental impact of the spill.
The aquarium at the National Mississippi River and Aquarium in Dubuque was supposed to have been teeming with sea life.
Now, the main tank will contain water and artificial coral, its sides adorned with window stickers that look like oil. The exhibit, opening Saturday, will feature live video of the spill.
Times staff writer Craig Pittman contributed to this report, which contains information from the Associated Press and Bloomberg.