+ The U.S. Coast Guard is examining its response plans as Cuba plans to drill for oil in deep water just over 50 miles from the Florida coast. American oil spill containment firms may be seeing “potential inroads” against the embargo. More after the jump.
+ Rival Shell announced plans to ramp up its own deepwater drilling in the Gulf.
+ Oregon State University researchers found a 40-fold increase of carcinogens in waters off the coast of Louisiana in August, and found much smaller increases of the coasts of other gulf states, according to Reuters.
+ Florida Chief Financial Officer Alex Sink has launched a site to allow oil spill claimants to submit complaints.
+ Interior Secretary Ken Salazar acknowledged that drilling in the Gulf of Mexico will have to resume, but said that once the moratorium on deepwater drilling is lifted, regulations will have to be tighter. More after the jump.
More drilling, tougher rules, continuing backlash
Interior Secretary Ken Salazar unveiled new, tougher regulations on offshore drilling, while at the same time acknowledging that drilling in the gulf will have to continue, Mother Jones explains.
“The fact is, we still need oil and gas from the Gulf of Mexico,” said Salazar in a speech outlining the administration’s overall energy policy. However, he said, the Deepwater Horizon explosion and spill “laid bare fundamental shortcomings in the oil and gas industry’s safety practices” in the Gulf.
Salazar defended the moratorium in his remarks: “The same people who fought regulation and oversight in the oil and gas industry have protested the suspension from the start. They want us to ignore the new reality and to go back to business as usual as if nothing had happened,” he said. “That’s not an option, and we won’t proceed on that front.”
The new rules, Salazar said, are intended to minimize the risk of “human and organizational error,” Politico reports, and he wants the industry to expect “a dynamic regulatory environment.”
Salazar notably did not specify when he planned to lift the moratorium on deepwater drilling, which has been a political liability for the Obama Administration, The New York Times reports.
“We will lift it at our own time and when we’re ready, and not based on political pressure from anyone,” Mr. Salazar said.
The moratorium on deepwater drilling, imposed in late April, is scheduled to end on Nov. 30, but officials have signaled that it will probably be eased before then.
Senator Mary Landrieu, Democrat of Louisiana and a strong ally of the oil industry, is blocking the confirmation of Jack Lew as the new White House budget director until the moratorium is lifted or substantially eased.
As Cuba plans to drill in deep water, will the U.S. be ready?
Cuba is preparing to drill deeper than the Deepwater Horizon in waters just a few dozen miles from the Florida Keyes, The New York Times reports.
Ocean scientists warn that a well blowout similar to the BP disaster could send oil spewing onto Cuban beaches and then the Florida Keys in as little as three days. If the oil reached the Gulf Stream, a powerful ocean current that passes through the region, oil could flow up the coast to Miami and beyond.
The nascent oil industry in Cuba is far less prepared to handle a major spill than even the American industry was at the time of the BP spill. Cuba has neither the submarine robots needed to fix deepwater rig equipment nor the platforms available to begin drilling relief wells on short notice.
The article quotes New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson saying that those shortcomings could create “potential inroads” against the U.S. embargo with Cuba, as American oil firms look to get involved in potential cleanup and containment operations.
Meanwhile, the Coast Guard is reviewing its contingency plans, The Miami Herald reports.
Baumgartner acknowledged that the United States has no emergency response agreement with Cuba for oil spills. The U.S. signed such an agreement with Mexico in 1980.
“We have longstanding agreements with Mexico about how we would manage incidents and the . . . plan is routinely monitored,” Baumgartner said. “There is not a bilateral U.S.-Cuba agreement on oil spills right now.”
While some oil industry analysts worry that Cuba would be ill prepared for an oil spill, Baumgartner noted that Repsol would be responsible for cleaning up any spill that entered U.S. waters and that the Coast Guard would manage any cleanup in U.S. waters.