Several media outlets are today reporting some potentially encouraging news: the Obama administration "may" allow offshore drilling before the six-month moratorium on Gulf of Mexico deepwater drilling expires.

President Barack Obama’s top environmental adviser told CNN that the president is hoping the independent commission he appointed to investigate the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico can quickly make safely recommendations. “We certainly hope so, but it is an independent commission,” Carol Browner said during an appearance on CNN, The Hill reports. “They have indicated that they may issue reports along the way, and we certainly hope they do,” she said.

Not everyone, however, holds out much hope based on Browner’s words. “Political rhetoric” is what Lafayette Economic Development Authority CEO Gregg Gothreaux calls her comments. “This is the most positive I’ve seen [since the moratorium], and it doesn’t encourage me,” says Gothreaux, who has been analyzing the economic impact of the ban on this region and is sickened by what the numbers show could happen here in the next year:

• total economic loss of $2.4 billion

• $466.7 million loss in wages and income

• more than 7,700 jobs lost

• of the 7,756 jobs the Lafayette MSA stands to lose, 3,751 are direct jobs lost meaning 4,005 jobs are indirect and induced

Gothreaux says it’s important to note that as the recovery continues, it is likely that many individuals who lost jobs, specifically in the energy industry, may be able to gain new employment in the recovery efforts, “in other locales where the rigs will be deployed, and in other sectors of the economy, which will mitigate some of the negative impact on the labor force.”

“[The administration] imposed the moratorium,” Gothreaux continues. “They condemned us for an event that happened for the first time in over 30 years. They could immediately lift the moratorium on existing wells. That would give us hope.”

His is a sentiment being echoed throughout the state. In a letter to the president today, U.S. Sen. Mary L. Landrieu outlined a series of steps to safely move forward with offshore energy production without imposing the arbitrary six-month drilling moratorium in water depths greater than 500 feet that could cost Gulf Coast residents tens of thousands of jobs.

“In an effort to ensure that such a terrible tragedy never occurs again, your Administration imposed a moratorium on new deepwater drilling,” Landrieu writes. “Unfortunately, I fear that this action could exacerbate, rather than alleviate, the impacts of this spill upon both our economy and our environment. Therefore, I write to urge your immediate reconsideration of the blanket six-month moratorium on deepwater drilling projects and ask that you consider instead a series of fundamental changes to offshore drilling practices that will serve to demonstrably reduce the risk of deepwater drilling while sparing the Gulf Coast’s economic vitality.”

In the letter, Landrieu acknowledges the importance of ensuring another accident of this magnitude never happens again. She identifies eight recommendations that could achieve the administration’s safety and oversight goals without crippling Gulf states’ economies. These include: immediately allowing these rigs to resume “drilling through dirt” — that is, drilling toward the targeted oil and gas reservoirs without allowing the hydrocarbon reservoirs to be penetrated; identifying critical processes associated with the drilling and completion of deepwater wells based on systemic risk analysis; deploying federal inspectors to examine all surface and subsea well control equipment currently being used to ensure that it has been properly maintained and is capable of shutting in the well during emergency operations; rigorously inspecting each operators drilling and casing/completion practices to ensure that well control contingencies are not compromised at any point; and compelling rig operators to demonstrate that they have the emergency power equipment to ensure proper operation.  

Landrieu also reiterated the need for the president to signal a date that deepwater drilling can re-start and to establish a clear set of benchmarks it hopes to achieve in this ban of deepwater drilling.  

In all, writes Landrieu, more than 300,000 Louisianians are employed either directly or indirectly by the oil and gas industry. According to the Offshore Marine Service Administration and the National Ocean Industries Association, a prolonged moratorium could put up to 100,000 people out of work.

“The immediate impacts to the economy are devastating enough: idling the 33 rigs currently permitted to drill in the deepwater Gulf would immediately impact employment for roughly 38,000 crewmen, deck hands, engineers, welders, ROV operators, caterers, helicopter pilots, and others who operate and service these vessels,” Landrieu writes. “That’s like closing 12 large motor vehicle assembly plants in one state, all at once. Moreover, that figure does not take into account the thousands of jobs generated by producing oil and gas offshore Louisiana — to our service sector, recreation and tourism, etc. The oil and gas sector directly employs some 15 percent of Louisiana’s workforce. We cannot simply close down that sector without devastating economic impacts.”

Click here for the letter; sign Louisiana Lt. Gov. Scott Angelle's petition to the White House and U.S. Department of the Interior, asking that the moratorium be shortened to 30 days, here.

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