WASHINGTON — The Obama administration is lifting the six-month moratorium on deepwater oil drilling in the Gulf of Mexico imposed after the BP oil spill, officials said Tuesday.
The Interior Department scheduled a 1 p.m. news conference in which Interior Secretary Ken Salazar is to "discuss the current suspensions on deepwater drilling," the Interior Department said.
The administration has been under heavy pressure from the industry, regional officials, political leaders and businesses to lift the moratorium on grounds it has thrown workers off their jobs and damaged the economy. A federal report said the moratorium likely caused a temporary loss of 8,000 to 12,000 jobs in the Gulf region.
Louisiana Sen. Mary Landrieu, a Democrat, has blocked a Senate vote to confirm President Barack Obama's choice of Jacob Lew to head the Office of Management and Budget until the moratorium is lifted or significantly eased.
Congressional officials told The Associated Press that Salazar planned to lift the moratorium, on the condition that companies would first have to meet a host of new safety regulations. They spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak ahead of the official announcement.
Obama imposed the drilling moratorium following the April 20 oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, the largest offshore spill in history.
White House spokesman Robert Gibbs said earlier Tuesday that the government was close to having the plans in place to lift the ban. When asked if he was saying the ban will be lifted this week, Gibbs said: "I do."
He emphasized that the move would include new requirements for those seeking to drill exploratory wells. Those entities and the companies they represent will have to prove they have the appropriate steps in place to contain a worst-case scenario.
The administration has already imposed new rules to make offshore drilling safer. The moratorium is set to expire Nov. 30.
Todd Hornbeck, CEO of Covington, La.-based Hornbeck Offshore Services, said lifting the moratorium would leave the industry in a "de facto moratorium stage" until the government fully explains how new drilling permits will be issued.
"We're still in the dark," said Hornbeck, who heads up one of the companies that sued to block Interior's initial moratorium. His company provides vessels and other services for the offshore industry.
"The devil is in the details, as they say, and the industry hasn't seen the final requirements for what we would have to do to be able to actually get a permit issued," he added. "Until that is done, lifting the moratorium may be just a moot or perfunctory act. ... Right now, I'm skeptical that it will be anytime soon that permits will be issued even if the moratorium is lifted."
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