Update: At his press conference today, in response to a question from CBS, President Obama implied he did not order the firing of MMS’s Director; he said he only heard about Director Birnbaum’s status today and had not had a chance to discuss it with Secretary Salazar. He also said that further drilling at 33 previously permitted rigs would be suspended.
p>MSNBC (and now CNN) are reporting this a.m. that Elizabeth Birnbaum, the Director of Minerals Management Service, who testified before Congress only yesterday, will be fired. But the question is: is she just a scapegoat? Birnbaum has only been Director since last July, while most of the deficient environmental and safety reviews for the Deepwater Horizon permits occurred before her tenure. Why her and not Salazar?
Meanwhile, the White House has told various news agencies that President Obama will today extend for another six months the partial moratorium on new offshore oil drilling permits in the Gulf. In addition, he will cancel proposed new leases off Alaska and Virginia and part of the Western Gulf. All these measures will remain in effect, the reports say, at least until the President’s commission investigating the BP oil disaster completes it’s work.
From the New York Times:
President Obama plans to announce Thursday that he is extending the moratorium on permits to drill new deepwater wells for six more months and will delay or cancel specific projects off the coasts of Alaska and Virginia and in the western Gulf of Mexico, a White House official said.
Mr. Obama, who will discuss the decisions at a midday White House news conference, is taking the actions in response to the initial 30-day safety review of offshore drilling ordered after a BP rig exploded in the Gulf of Mexico, killing 11 men and opening a gusher of oil that has yet to be stopped.
The latest moves come amid deepening frustration and criticism of the administration’s handling of the crisis. The president’s order is intended to halt further permits for new wells for six months, delay planned exploration in the Chukchi and Beaufort seas off the coast of Alaska, cancel the August lease sale in the western Gulf and cancel the lease sale off the coast of Virginia, the White House official said.
As the Times reported last week, the previously announced moratorium in the Gulf, which apparently was not put in writing, allowed Minerals Management Services to continue issuing permits to drilling rigs that had already received initial permits but required what the Administration called "modifications." It was just such a permit "modification" to change its drilling plan that the Deepwater Horizon rig had just received and was using in the weeks before the blowout.