US to lift oil drilling moratorium

The White House said on Tuesday that the Obama administration will likely lift a moratorium on deepwater offshore oil drilling imposed after the BP Gulf of Mexico disaster “very soon.”

US Interior Secretary Ken Salazar and Michael Bromwich, the government’s new top offshore drilling regulator were to discuss the moratorium later Tuesday on a telephone briefing, officials said.

The administration has been working on producing procedures and new rules under which oil firms active off US shores must prove they have plans in place to deal with any new and potentially catastrophic oil spills.

“That process, I believe will wrap up very soon,” White House spokesman Robert Gibbs said, leaving the impression that the moratorium could be lifted within days.

“The process is coming to its natural end to ensure that when the moratorium is lifted, a process begins where a containment strategy for exploratory drilling processes takes into account worst case scenarios.”

The process will ensure “that the government and the American people have confidence that if something catastrophic were to happen, there are resources by the companies … to ensure that they can deal with it.”

President Barack Obama ordered a six-month freeze on deepwater offshore oil drilling in the Gulf of Mexico shortly after a massive BP oil leak from an undersea well after a rig explosion in late April.

The freeze was annulled by a court in July and promptly reinstated by the government. It expires on November 30.

Opponents of the moratorium have charged that it has been devastating for the Gulf Coast economy which is reeling from the disaster and also still has not recovered from Hurricane Katrina in 2005.

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