Spill panel chief expects federal drilling ban to end early

“I would be surprised if it doesn’t” end early, Reilly told reporters during a break in a Washington hearing held by the National Commission on the BP Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill and Offshore Drilling.

The White House is under heavy pressure from the oil industry, Republicans and many Gulf Coast lawmakers from both parties to end or relax the six-month ban. Federal officials have said they are open to lifting the ban early if they’re confident drilling can resume safely.

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The Interior Department has issued several new safety requirements in recent months.

Reilly said it is not clear what remains to be done to allow lifting of the ban, noting that all deepwater rigs in the Gulf of Mexico have been inspected and that safety violations discovered have been addressed.

Reilly said he has heard concern from people in the Gulf and the industry that drilling will be delayed beyond the lifting of the ban as new rules are implemented.

Former Sen. Bob Graham (D-Fla.) — the panel's other co-chairman — told reporters that federal officials need to end what has been a decades-long “deference” to the oil industry.

“We need to be sure the lease is written for the benefit of the public of the United States,” he said, noting the need for companies to ensure they can respond adequately to spills.