Another Stumble in the Gulf

The administration has decreed a six-month moratorium on exploratory drilling in the Gulf, based on a report that Interior Secretary Ken Salazar wrote for President Obama. Salazar claimed that a panel of seven experts selected by the National Academy of Engineering had peer reviewed his report. It turns out, though, that the seven experts never saw the recommendation for a moratorium, and in fact oppose it:

The seven experts who advised President Obama on how to deal with offshore drilling safety after the Deepwater Horizon explosion are accusing his administration of misrepresenting their views to make it appear that they supported a six-month drilling moratorium — something they actually oppose.
The experts, recommended by the National Academy of Engineering, say Interior Secretary Ken Salazar modified their report last month, after they signed it, to include two paragraphs calling for the moratorium on existing drilling and new permits.
Salazar’s report to Obama said a panel of seven experts “peer reviewed” his recommendations, which included a six-month moratorium on permits for new wells being drilled using floating rigs and an immediate halt to drilling operations.
“None of us actually reviewed the memorandum as it is in the report,” oil expert Ken Arnold told Fox News. “What was in the report at the time it was reviewed was quite a bit different in its impact to what there is now. So we wanted to distance ourselves from that recommendation.”
Salazar apologized to those experts Thursday.

Carol Browner tried to claim that the administration did nothing wrong, but it is hard to follow her logic:

“No one’s been deceived or misrepresented,” Browner told Fox News, defending the moratorium as a safety measure. “These experts gave their expert advice, and then a determination was made looking at all of the information, including what these experts provided — that there should be a pause, and that’s exactly what there is. There’s a pause.”

That, of course, is very different from attributing the recommendation of a moratorium to the experts, or claiming that they had “peer reviewed” it. In fact, the expert panel made cogent arguments against the administration’s moratorium:

In a letter the experts sent to Salazar, they said his primary recommendation “misrepresents” their position and that halting the drilling is actually a bad idea.
The oil rig explosion occurred while the well was being shut down – a move that is much more dangerous than continuing ongoing drilling, they said.
They also said that because the floating rigs are scarce and in high demand worldwide, they will not simply sit in the Gulf idle for six months. The rigs will go to the North Sea and West Africa, possibly preventing the U.S. from being able to resume drilling for years.
They also said the best and most advanced rigs will be the first to go, leaving the U.S. with the older and potentially less safe rights operating in the nation’s coastal waters.

So this looks like one more instance where the Obama administration is neither honest nor competent, and where its first instinct seems to be to pursue the course that will most damage our economy.

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