New NEPA Procedures for Offshore Drilling

by Holly Doremus | August 17, 2010

Cross-posted from Legal Planet.

On Monday the White House Council on Environmental Quality issued a report on the NEPA analysis that preceded exploratory drilling at the ill-fated Macondo well in the Gulf of Mexico, together with recommendations for improving NEPA analysis in the future. According to CEQ, the Bureau of Ocean and Energy Management (successor to the disgraced Minerals Management Service) has already agreed to implement the recommendations.

The report offers a detailed look at the chaotic and uncoordinated NEPA procedures that were apparently routine at the old MMS. The major outlines of the story were already well known: MMS did a cursory, over-optimistic oil spill analysis at the 5-year program and lease sale stages, then applied a categorical exemption to applications for exploration plans. Separately from that environmental analysis, BP prepared an oil spill response plan which considered the possibility of a much larger catastrophic spill, but assured regulators that the company would be able to quickly and effectively clean up such a spill.  There was never a thorough, realistic, transparent analysis of the probability and potential impacts of a blowout.

Even before it gets to recommendations, this report adds three very useful things to the ongoing conversation. First, it provides a much-needed dose of transparency, providing web links to a number of key environmental documents which have been available, but not easy to locate, through the former MMS. Second, it notes yet another ...

Judge's Injunction Blocking Moratorium on Deepwater Drilling Discounts Statutory Intent

by Rebecca Bratspies | June 25, 2010
Cross-posted from IntLawGrrls. On Thursday Judge Martin Feldman of the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Louisiana refused to delay the effect of the preliminary injunction he issued on Tuesday, overturning the U.S. Department of Interior’s May 28, 2010, Temporary Moratorium on deepwater drilling. (Related court documents available here.) Several facets of the June 22 decision are truly astonishing. Nowhere in the decision is there any recognition of the unique, emergency circumstances or the grave threat to the ...

Looking Beyond Deepwater to the Horizon: Government-on-Demand Doesn't Work (Surprise!)

by Alyson Flournoy | June 02, 2010
In following the oil spill disaster, it can be hard to think beyond the control effort du jour to the bigger picture. I was riveted by the latest of BP’s seven failed efforts to stop the flow of oil, hoping it would succeed and that the underwater tornado of oil devastating the Gulf, the coast, and the people whose livelihoods depend on these natural resources, would be contained, at least. And now that the top kill has failed, we’re all ...

Socializing Risk: The New Energy Economics

by Frank Ackerman | May 26, 2010
Cross-posted from Triple Crisis. Despite talk of a moratorium, the Interior Department’s Minerals and Management Service is still granting waivers from environmental review for oil drilling in the Gulf of Mexico, including wells in very deep water. Until last month, most of us never thought about the risk that one of those huge offshore rigs would explode in flames and then sink, causing oil to gush out uncontrollably and befoul the oceans. The odds seemed low, and still do: Aren’t ...

Assessing the Federal Response to the Deepwater Horizon Catastrophe

by Joel Mintz | May 25, 2010
The recent horrific events in the Gulf of Mexico have presented immense challenges to the Obama administration and many of the federal career officials who are responsible for regulating the safety of offshore oil extraction and responding to spills like the one that continues to gush from the remains of the Deepwater Horizon oil rig at great volume. To their credit, a number of presidential appointees and career officials with duties regarding spill countermeasures have been working very hard to ...

What if MMS Had Followed the Law When Considering the Deepwater Horizon Permit?

by Dan Rohlf | May 19, 2010
As millions of gallons of oil continue to pour into the Gulf of Mexico, the Washington Post and New York Times reported that the Minerals Management Service (MMS) – the agency within the U.S. Department of Interior that oversees offshore oil and gas leasing and development – mostly ignored some of the country’s most important environmental laws when it gave the green light to Deepwater Horizon and other offshore drilling. The Endangered Species Act requires federal agencies to consult with ...

Heads in sand, oil in water

by Holly Doremus | May 10, 2010
Cross-posted from Legal Planet. As oil drifts on and offshore in the Gulf of Mexico, forcing the closure of wildlife refuges and more fishing grounds, Interior Secretary Ken Salazar has called a temporarily halt to new offshore drilling while his staff prepare a report on the disaster and even Republicans in Congress are calling for new investigation of the troubled Minerals Management Service. Clearly, things didn’t go as planned on the Deepwater Horizon. Notwithstanding Rush Limbaugh’s wild accusations of environmentalist ...

CPR's Victor Flatt in Houston Chronicle on a Momentous Week for Energy Policy

by Matthew Freeman | May 09, 2010
CPR Member Scholar Victor Flatt has an op-ed piece in this morning's Houston Chronicle, in which he argues that the week of April 20 will likely be recalled as "one of the most pivotal and important weeks in the history of energy in this country," citing the confluence of the explosion of the Deepwater Horizon offshore oil drilling platform and its disastrous environmental consequences, and the federal approval of the massive Cape Wind project in Nantucket Sound to capture wind ...

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