“Mr. President, you were looking for someone’s butt to kick,” said Lafourche Parish President Charlotte Randolph, recently. “You’re kicking ours.” The sooner the Administration climbs down from this pointless exercise, the better for a Gulf that needs real help.
Before the Obama Administration sweeps under the carpet the controversy over the drilling experts it falsely used to justify its moratorium, the incident bears another look. Not least because it underlines the purely political nature of a drilling ban that now threatens the Gulf Coast economy and drilling safety.
When President Obama last month announced his six-month deepwater moratorium, he pointed to an Interior Department report of new “safety” recommendations. That report prominently noted that the recommendations it contained—including the six-month drilling ban—had been “peer-reviewed” by “experts identified by the National Academy of Engineering.” It also boasted that Interior “consulted with a wide range” of other experts. The clear implication was that the nation’s drilling brain trust agreed a moratorium was necessary.
As these columns reported last week, the opposite is true. In a scathing document, eight of the “experts” the Administration listed in its report said their names had been “used” to “justify” a “political decision.” The draft they reviewed had not included a six-month drilling moratorium. The Administration added that provision only after it had secured sign-off. In their document, the eight forcefully rejected a moratorium, which they argued could prove more economically devastating than the oil spill itself and “counterproductive” to “safety.”
The Administration insisted this was much ado about nothing. An Interior spokesman claimed the experts clearly had been called to review the report on a “technical basis,” whereas the moratorium was a “comprehensive” question. Obama environment czar Carol Browner declared: “No one’s been deceived or misrepresented.” Really? We can only imagine the uproar if a group of climate scientists had claimed the Bush Administration misappropriated their views.
We decided to call some of these experts ourselves. Their information, and concerns, are revealing.
The experts were certainly under the impression they were reviewing a comprehensive document, as some of the recommendations would take six months or even a year to implement. And the report they agreed to did address moratoria: It recommended a six-month ban on new deepwater permits. Yet Benton Baugh, president of Radoil, said that in at least two separate hour-and-a-half phone calls among Interior and the experts, there was no discussion of a moratorium on existing drilling. “Because if anybody had [made that suggestion], we’d have said ‘that’s craziness.'”