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The National Ocean Industries Association (NOIA) has criticised the new drilling suspensions in the Gulf of Mexico

Hydrocarbon Engineering,

In a statement released today The National Ocean Industries Association (NOIA) has criticised the new drilling suspension announced today by the Department of the Interior, as it believes that it does very little to lessen the confusion and uncertainty surrounding offshore energy exploration in the Gulf of Mexico.

Now termed ‘suspensions’ by the Department, the moratorium does not prohibit drilling specifically by water depth, as did its predecessor, but rather prohibits drilling operations that use subsea blowout preventers (BOP) or surface BOPs on floating facilities until November 30, 2010. The suspensions do not apply to anchored facilities using surface BOPs. Such facilities are generally used in shallow water, which makes the new suspension glaringly similar, if not even more restrictive than the original moratorium. It is not immediately clear how many facilities will be impacted.

The new moratorium does leave the door slightly ajar to being lifted early though, but only on the provision that the industry can provide assurances that adequate containment and response measures are in place where drilling is taking place. However, the moratorium does not outline what form these assurances need to take.

In fact, NOIA, the American Petroleum Institute, the International Association of Drilling Contractors, the Independent Petroleum Association of America and the United States Oil and Gas Association and industry have joined together and convened task forces to address these very issues on containment and spill response. At this time, the Department of the Interior has not indicated how they will work with these task forces to assure that all information useful to them will be made available. NOIA and its members stand ready to provide assistance and suggestions outside the courtroom to find a safe and sensible solution.

“The practical effect is that whether you call this a suspension or a moratorium, there is not a clear path for deepwater exploration companies to follow, and until such a path exists, exploration is at a standstill and more jobs will be lost,” said NOIA Chairman Burt Adams. “If it looks like a moratorium, acts like a moratorium, and the effect is the same as a moratorium, it is a moratorium.”

Today’s announcement also fails to mention the legally challenged moratorium currently under appeal. “At least for the sake of some clarity, the Administration should only have one moratorium in play at a time,” said Adams. “It’s the classic shell game. The Administration keeps moving the shells around, only to reveal a new moratorium under the shell that is picked. However, in this case, there appears to be a moratorium under every shell.”

Meanwhile, members of NOIA and the oil and gas industry as a whole have been working tirelessly to assist in the containment and clean up of the oil since April 20. In addition, the industry has done a top to bottom review of safety procedures to guard against a similar accident now and in the future. As part of this top to bottom review, industry has voluntarily suggested additional safety checks and backups to regain the public’s confidence in offshore exploration.

The NOIA has indicated that they would have preferred a constructive consultation period to settle the safety and environmental issues this moratorium is meant to address. However, for now, the legal wrangling over the drilling moratorium will continue.

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