Salazar: GOP drilling bills show ‘amnesia’ about BP disaster

Interior Secretary Ken Salazar on Tuesday slammed House GOP bills that would mandate much wider offshore drilling and faster development, alleging they reflect “amnesia” about the catastrophic BP well blowout in the Gulf of Mexico that’s a week shy of its one-year anniversary.

“When you have gone through a horrific national crisis, which the Deepwater Horizon was, it’s important that you learn the lessons from the Deepwater Horizon, and that we don’t repeat the mistakes of the past, and much of the legislation that I have seen bandied around – especially with the House Republicans – is almost as if the Deepwater Horizon-Macondo well incident never happened,” Salazar told reporters at Interior headquarters.

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“We can’t afford to take that approach to the future of the nation’s energy security,” Salazar added. He said another blowout akin to the uncontained rupture of BP’s Macondo well without the capacity to contain it “would probably mean death to oil-and-gas development in America’s oceans.”

His comments to reporters come a day before the House Natural Resources Committee will consider three bills sponsored by Chairman Doc Hastings (R-Wash.), who has long alleged the White House is stymieing U.S. energy production.

Hastings’ plans – which have won praise from House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.) – would require fast action on offshore drilling permits, a major expansion of areas open to development, set a timeline for nearer-term Gulf lease sales that have been delayed (see our story here for much more on the bills).

Salazar said various drilling bills in circulation on Capitol Hill reveal a “sense of amnesia” about the April 20 explosion of the Deepwater Horizon rig that touched off the massive months-long spill and killed 11 workers.

“I don’t have amnesia, neither does the president, neither does [Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, Regulation and Enforcement Director] Michael Bromwich or the Department of Interior,” Salazar said at a press conference to tout Interior’s offshore policies as the one-year anniversary approaches.

Interior officials say they are striking the proper balance between safety, and spurring U.S. drilling and energy production. The department issued a broad set of safety rules in the wake of the BP disaster, such as new well design rules and requirements that companies demonstrate the capacity to swiftly contain runaway wells.

Interior in late February began the resumption of permitting for the type of deepwater projects that were halted for months after the spill. The agency is mulling additional rules, including further new requirements for the subsea blowout preventers.

Bromwich said at the same press conference that the regulators have made great strides since the accident, but he and Salazar said there will never be a 100 percent guarantee of protection against future spills.

“We are in a different place in terms of offshore drilling than we were a year ago, than we were nine months ago, than we were six months ago,” Bromwich said. The public . . . can feel more confident that offshore drilling can take place more safely and with greater protection for the environment than ever before,” he said.

This post was updated at 6:05 p.m.