The Obama administration announced on Monday that it would allow 13 companies to resume deepwater drilling, which it had suspended in May during the massive BP oil spill that followed the Deepwater Horizon's April 20 explosion.
Administration officials categorized the move, which would affect a total of 16 Gulf-area wells, as a logical step for a drilling industry suffering under the ban. All the wells had been operational before the Deepwater Horizon explosion. Moreover, the affected companies would have to comply with new safety rules, though not new environmental reviews.
"Safety is our top priority and the administration has already taken unprecedented steps to increase oversight and safety of offshore drilling," White House spokesman Clark Stevens said. "Any offshore drilling taking place in the United States must meet the rigorous new safety standards put in place since the BP Deepwater Horizon oil spill."
But while the oil and drilling industry was getting back to business, consumer advocates, legal experts and Hill lawmakers were airing concerns that Congress had essentially abandoned its efforts to improve protections and compensation for spill victims.
The major piece of legislation that Democrats drew up in response to the BP crisis has yet to pass the Senate, meaning that if another spill were to occur in the Gulf, the total compensation for economic damages would remain at a paltry $75 million.
"When you consider the risk that offshore drilling poses to our coastal economies and environment, the current cap on oil-company liability is just a spit in the ocean that does nothing to hold them accountable," said Sen. Frank Lautenberg (D-N.J.) one of the chief advocates of eliminating a cap on economic-damage liability for oil companies.