Interior official: ‘No chance’ Landrieu’s pressure will shorten drilling ban

Sen. Mary Landrieu (D-La.) is blocking Senate confirmation of Jacob Lew, who is President Obama’s choice to head the White House Office of Management and Budget, until the administration agrees to lift or scale-back the ban.

White House spokesman Robert Gibbs on Thursday blasted Landrieu’s hold on Lew. But he suggested that newly issued Interior safety rules are a step toward easing the ban. “I think in many ways it likely does,” Gibbs said when asked whether the requirements moved the administration closer to lifting the moratorium.

Interior is also under heavy pressure from Republicans, other Gulf Coast lawmakers from both parties and the oil industry to ease the ban, which Landrieu and other critics call overbroad and a blow to the Gulf region’s economy.

Interior imposed beefed up safety rules on offshore drilling operations Thursday that address the design, cementing and casing of wells, and the efficacy of subsea blowout preventers. And Bromwich is slated to provide Interior Secretary Ken Salazar a report imminently about the drilling freeze.

“I'm due to provide a report to the secretary in the next day or two. And that is going to be his decision whether that justifies shortening or modifying the moratorium,” Bromwich said.

Bromwich acknowledged that it’s unclear whether the new safety mandates would have prevented the April 20 blowout of BP’s Macondo well that touched off the worst oil spill in U.S. history.

“The short answer is we don't know. What we do know is that the new rules substantially raise the bar and impose tough new requirements on offshore operators. That's our goal is to continually upgrade the level of safety that's required in offshore drilling,” he said.

“We won't know the full answer as to whether the new requirements would have prevented the blowout until all of the investigations are complete,” Bromwich added.

This post was updated at 5:36 p.m.