Conservative Media Still Misleading On Deepwater Drilling Moratorium

Members of the right-wing media have distorted the administration's policies in the wake of the BP oil spill, claiming that President Obama shut down all drilling and production in the Gulf of Mexico. In fact, the temporary moratorium on drilling in the Gulf only applied to new deepwater wells and did not affect the thousands of wells already producing oil and gas.

Right-Wing Media Push False Claim That Obama Halted All Drilling In The Gulf

WSJ: Obama Admin. Imposed A “Near-Yearlong Freeze Of Gulf Coast Drilling After The BP Disaster, Even In Shallow Water.” From a March 31 Wall Street Journal editorial criticizing President Obama's energy proposals:

Leave aside the huge stretches of the outer continental energy frontier that are off-limits to exploration, or the Administration's near-yearlong freeze of Gulf Coast drilling after the BP disaster, even in shallow water. In his speech, Mr. Obama gestured at the Northeast shale boom that perhaps holds decades of natural gas reserves. [Wall Street Journal, 3/31/11]

Wash. Times: “The Obama Administration Imposed A Ban On Oil Drilling In The Gulf And Both Coasts.” From a March 30 Washington Times editorial:

After spending the past two years bringing back these higher prices, Mr. Obama has little credibility promoting what he claims to be solutions. Following the Deepwater Horizon oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico last year, the Obama administration imposed a ban on oil drilling in the Gulf and both coasts. He also brought the issuance of new drilling permits to a virtual standstill. Nevertheless, the administration has gone to great lengths lately to convince Americans that the oil production decline is the fault of the oil companies. [Washington Times, 3/30/11]

Kilmeade: “We All Know It's True” That Obama “Stop[ped] Drilling In The Gulf.” From Fox News' Fox & Friends:

GRETCHEN CARLSON (co-host): Well, the other thing that struck me in that little clip that we played from the president is that he says we're going to lower our intake of oil by a third in the next decade. But doesn't that leave a lot of people asking the question, not because we're gonna be drilling here at home.

STUART VARNEY (host, Varney & Co.): Right. He actually mocked drilling. Drill, baby, drill. You've seen all of that. We've heard that before. He mocked that. He says we're going to reduce use of foreign oil because we're going to replace it with alternate fuels. Specifically, he wants to use taxpayer money to subsidize a fleet of natural gas using vehicles. It's like the T. Boone Pickens idea. So replace imported foreign oil with natural gas, solar, and wind power. And by the way, maybe we should try and get some more oil out of our own resources, but let's not go drill in the Gulf. It's a contradiction.

BRIAN KILMEADE (co-host): You know, it's true. And also, he did something else that was so political, he mocked drill here, drill now. Which just gets people -

STEVE DOOCY (co-host): Drill baby, drill.

KILMEADE: Yeah, drill baby, drill. And it just gets people dug in saying wait a second, why did you stop drilling in the gulf? And his response to his own question was that is absolutely not true. I haven't done anything. But we all know it's true. All these leases and reinstatements of these platforms have been incredibly slow.

VARNEY: A federal judge has ordered the Energy Department - the Interior Department to take applications to get back to drilling in the Gulf. He has ordered them. He's given them 30 days. Get back and do it. Because they weren't accepting these drilling requests, they just simply weren't taking them in. They wouldn't take the paperwork. A federal judge says go and do it. [Fox News, Fox & Friends, 3/31/11]

Erickson: “The Obama Administration Has Shut Down Existing Drilling In The Gulf Of Mexico.” In a column published by Human Events, CNN contributor Erick Erickson wrote:

Fast forward to 2011. We are at the date where oil would be coming on line from off the coast and on ANWR. Coupled with that, the Obama Administration has shut down existing drilling in the Gulf of Mexico, using the Deep Water Horizon accident as an excuse. When a federal judge overturned the original moratorium, the Obama Administration imposed a second one. [Human Events, 3/13/11]

Fox Guest Claims “The Gulf Of Mexico Is Shut Down For Drilling.” In an appearance on Fox Business Network's Cavuto, former CEO of Shell Oil, John Hofmeister stated:

HOFMEISTER: Well, I beg to differ what the president's facts but the Gulf of Mexico is shut down for drilling the last time I checked. [Fox Business, Cavuto, 3/11/11, via Nexis]

Beck: “We're Still Not Drilling In ... The Gulf Of Mexico.” From Glenn Beck's Fox News show:

BECK: Well, on gas, we've just been cheerleading the instability in the Middle East, and we're putting apparently all of our eggs in the green basket, the solar panels and factories that are getting built right now with multimillion dollar grants from you the taxpayer and then they're just closing shop.

Then, of course, the Volt. We had a bailout G.M. because G.M. had a bright future with the Volt. “Consumer Reports” has just said the Volt doesn't make an awful lot of sense. It's going to be a tough sell to customers. Really? You think?

We're not searching for new places to drill. And we're still not drilling in the places we were drilling like the Gulf of Mexico. [Fox News, Glenn Beck, 3/1/11, via Nexis]

Horner: Obama “Shut Down” Meaningful Production In The Gulf. From a post by CEI's Christopher Horner on Big Government:

Please point to his record of trying to boost production again?

Was it revoking 77 leases on 130,000 hydrocarbon-rich acres ab initio -- which his Interior Secretary called just the beginning -- sealing off more land for exploration and production, taking advantage of the Gulf Spill to shut down meaningful E&P [exploration and production] there (and lying to aid the political objective), or maybe halting recent progress that brought a revival in Alaskan production close to happening?

Closing off wherever oil is likely to be is not aimed at boosting production, no matter what ideological bubble one inhabits. [Big Government, 3/18/11]

LAT's Malcolm: “The Obama Administration Has Made The Moratorium On Drilling In The Gulf Of Mexico Into A 'Perma-Torium.' ” From a column by the Los Angeles Times' Andrew Malcolm:

The Obama energy policy basically boils down to this: Increase the price of energy so Americans will use less. That's an environmental policy, not an energy policy.

To achieve this goal, the Obama Administration has made the moratorium on drilling in the Gulf of Mexico into a “perma-torium.” [Los Angeles Times, 3/15/11]

In Fact, Drilling And Production Continued In Gulf Despite Deepwater Drilling Moratorium

AP: Drilling Rigs In Shallow Waters Were “Allowed To Remain In Operation.” The Associated Press reported in June 2010:

The moratorium put a halt to the 33 deepwater exploratory rigs in operation in the Gulf in addition to all new deep-sea drilling permits. Platforms that are already producing oil along with rigs in shallow waters are allowed to remain in operation. [Associated Press, 6/10/10] “Moratorium Had No Affect On Wells Already In Production.” According to a fact check of the claim that President Obama's drilling policies are to blame for $4 a gallon gas prices by

The moratorium had no affect on wells already in production, according to Nicholas Pardi, a spokesman for the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, Regulation and Enforcement. But it did affect drilling of new wells, and it's important for new wells to start producing oil as the old wells experience a natural decline in production. [, 3/24/11]

Thousands Of Wells Continued To Pump Oil And Gas. According to a May 28, 2010, report by McClatchy Newspapers: “Interior Secretary Ken Salazar said the actions wouldn't hurt the nation's immediate need for oil and natural gas, noting that 591 deepwater wells and 4,515 shallow water wells in the Gulf will continue to pump oil and gas.” [McClatchy Newspapers, 5/28/10, via Nexis]

PolitiFact: “Existing, Oil-Producing Deepwater Platforms” Were Allowed To “Continue To Produce.” From a June 16th, 2010, PolitiFact item:

On May 27, Obama did announce a 6-month moratorium on exploratory drilling in the Gulf of Mexico. But if you think that means there's no more oil production going on in the Gulf, you'd be mistaken.

Wells that are currently producing oil will continue to produce. There are 72 active platforms in water depths of 500 feet or greater (the definition of deepwater) in the Gulf of Mexico that will be allowed to continue to operate.

At issue here is the term “oil drilling.” Many people use the term broadly to refer to the entire process of extracting oil from the ground, not just drilling the holes looking for oil. But once a well starts producing oil, it's not being “drilled” anymore.

According to the moratorium notice, the U.S. Minerals Management Service will not consider drilling permits for deepwater wells for six months. In addition, operators that are currently drilling any well “must proceed at the next safe opportunity to secure the well and take all necessary steps to cease operations and temporarily abandon or close the well until they receive further guidance from the Regional Supervisor for Field Operations.” There are 33 drilling operations in water deeper than 500 feet that fit that bill, which means that they needed to get to a safe place and then stop drilling. For the record, Deepwater Horizon was among the wells in the exploratory drilling phase.

When the Department of the Interior issued the moratorium directive on May 30, Secretary Ken Salazar published a statement saying, “Deepwater production from the Gulf of Mexico will continue subject to close oversight and safety requirements, but deepwater drilling operations must safely come to a halt. With the BP oil spill still growing in the Gulf, and investigations and reviews still underway, a six-month pause in drilling is needed, appropriate, and prudent.”

We think a lot of people probably assumed Obama's statement meant that all oil operations in the Gulf of Mexico were put on a six-month hiatus. That's not the case. The moratorium relates to exploratory oil drilling, not to existing, oil-producing deepwater platforms, which will continue to produce. [PolitiFact, 6/16/10]

EIA: Crude Oil Production In The Gulf Of Mexico Remained Near Record High Levels. According to the U.S. Energy Information Agency, production of crude oil remained near its highest levels in the months following the imposition of a moratorium on new deep-water drilling, averaging approximately 48 million barrels per month. The following EIA chart shows no major drop in production throughout 2010:

EIA Crude Production [U.S. Energy Information Agency, accessed 3/31/11]

BOEMRE Has Approved 42 New Shallow Water Permits Since June. According to the Department of Energy's bureau of Ocean Energy management, Regulation, and Enforcement, “Shallow water drilling operations ... were not affected by the deepwater drilling moratorium.” BOEMRE also posts data on pending permits, the latest of which shows that 42 permits for new shallow-water wells have been approved since June 8, 2010:

BOEMRE Permits[BOEMRE, accessed 3/31/11]