By Peter Marcus, DENVER DAILY NEWS
Jonah Fruchter saw firsthand the devastation deepwater oil spills can have on a community.
The Sierra Club regional conservation organizer traveled to New Orleans during June and July to assist with the Deepwater Horizon rig explosion cleanup effort. While he was in the Gulf, Fruchter witnessed the price of oysters jump from $1 per oyster to $5 per oyster; he watched depression jump by 25 percent; he saw demand at soup kitchens skyrocket; and he watched helplessly as dolphins swam through oil sheens and pelicans emerged covered in oil.
The devastating BP oil spill — that leaked millions of gallons of oil into the Gulf — had taken a crippling toll on the region. Given the devastation, Fruchter can’t understand why the Obama administration on Tuesday lifted its ban on deepwater drilling seven weeks ahead of schedule.
The administration says it is confident that new rules will cut the risk of a repeat of the BP oil spill, the worst ever to hit the United States. But Fruchter does not believe the rules will adequately protect against another disaster.
“It’s a sad day when we can’t realize after a spill of this magnitude that deepwater drilling isn’t a realistic way to power our country,” said Fruchter.
The government imposed the deepwater drilling freeze in late May after BP’s ruptured Macondo well began leaking. The ban was supposed to last through November.
The U.S. Interior Department has said all oil companies will need to comply with new regulations and demonstrate they can adequately respond to blowouts. Every rig must be inspected before drilling begins and company chief executives must certify each project has met all requirements.
It seems, however, that the Obama administration is having a difficult time pleasing either side of the debate. Congressman Doug Lamborn, R-Colorado Springs, said this week that he is concerned that the administration is only lifting the ban as an “election eve political stunt.”
Lamborn suggested that the administration will continue a ban by stalling the approval of drilling permits in a “maze of red tape.”
“My fear is that the administration will claim they have lifted the ban, but impose a de facto ban by holding up drilling permits in a maze of red tape,” Lamborn said in a statement. “This will mean thousands of oil workers will remain out-of-work as energy producers wait for permits.”
Analysts say it will take months or years to return activity to the pace prior to the April 20 Macondo disaster. There are 18 idled rigs in deep water that must seek drilling permits under the new safety rules.
Fruchter, however, says federal officials need to consider not just the business world, but also the communities affected by such disasters.
“We’re talking about devastation of some of the local cultures that make New Orleans such a special place, but also puts food on peoples’ tables,” he said.