HOUMA — An environmental group has filed a lawsuit seeking to reinstate the federal deepwater drilling ban, a move one local oil-industry representative calls “reactionary.”
The Center for Biological Diversity, based in Tuscon, Ariz., filed suit Friday against Interior Secretary Ken Salazar in federal court in Washington, D.C. The suit seeks a reinstatement of the ban on deepwater oil drilling enacted by the Obama administration in the wake of the Deepwater Horizon disaster in the Gulf of Mexico, the worst oil spill in U.S. history.
The ban should remain until a “comprehensive analysis” of deepwater drilling’s risks to wildlife and the environment can be conducted, the suit says.
Jane Arnette, executive director of the South Central Industrial Association, a Houma-based group that represents dozens of local oil-related companies, said the suit ignores a history of safe practices in the offshore-drilling industry.
“That’s very reactionary,” she said Saturday. “After years of drilling, rather than thinking through what we’ve done in the past. The industry is very cognizant of the environmental aspects of this.”
Salazar lifted the ban Oct. 12. It had been in place nearly six months since the April 20 disaster on a Gulf rig that killed 11 people and spilled an estimated 200 million gallons of oil.
Local oil-industry executives and politicians lobbied hard against the ban, saying it was unnecessary and would cripple the area’s oil-based economy. While lauding the ban’s demise, many industry officials maintained that new, stricter regulations would effectively continue the moratorium by slowing the issuance of drilling permits.
The ban’s effects have not been limited to the oil industry, said Lori LeBlanc, executive director of the Gulf Economic Survival Team. The group was formed by interim Lt. Gov. Scott Angelle after the drilling ban was announced and is now working to streamline the federal permitting process.
“The moratorium itself is a burden on the middle class more than it is on big oil,” LeBlanc said Saturday.
That’s because so many local jobs are supported directly or indirectly by the offshore industry.
“It would be devastating if it were reinstated,” she said.
Many companies were able to hold on to employees for the short term, but if the ban were reinstated, there would be “significant layoffs,” she said.
“We didn’t have the number of layoffs predicted, but a lot of people had their wages and hours reduced,” LeBlanc said.
Miyoko Sakashita, a director at the Arizona center seeking the ban’s reinstatement, said in a release Saturday that the April 20 incident shows that offshore drilling can and does have significant impacts to the environment. He cited the more than 6,000 oiled birds and hundreds of dead sea turtles and marine mammals as evidence.
“We can no longer afford to have our government simply taking the oil industry at its word when it comes to ensuring the safety of people and the environment,” Sakashita said. “Offshore drilling is a dangerous business, and Salazar’s Interior Department needs to take that threat seriously.”