NEW ORLEANS-- The first in a series of forums regarding deepwater oil drilling took center stage at Tulane University's McAllister Auditorium on Wednesday. During the forum, the head of the newly-created Bureau of Ocean Energy Management listened as local leaders pleaded for an end to the moratorium.
'These are real jobs and these jobs affect real lives -- and people don't seem to understand the urgency,' said Rep. Joseph Cao, R-Louisiana.
However, the bureau's director, Michael Bromwich, said a change to the moratorium is unlikely to happen before the drilling forums wrap up around the country in mid-September.
'I think the process of gathering, collecting, analyzing the information and discussing it with [Interior] Secretary [Ken] Salazar, makes it almost sure that we won't be able to recommend anything or make any decisions by that time,' Bromwich said. 'How long after that it will take, I don't think anyone can speculate at this time because we have just begun the process.'
Part of that process includes how the oil industry plans to handle any future blowouts, like the one that happened with the Deepwater Horizon. At the forum, representatives from four oil companies laid out their plan: a $1 billion system of equipment, designed to contain oil ruptures far below the Gulf.
'It's a system that again, we intend never to use,' said Sara Otwein, with ExxonMobil Development Company. 'But if we must use it, we're confident that the system will be able to quickly and effectively mitigate the impacts of any deepwater blowout.'
Yet, the system is still in its conceptual stage. Environmental advocates believe deepwater drilling is still a potentially dangerous endeavor.
'At this point, deepwater drilling is a high-wire act without a net, and they don't have a sufficient ability to really respond,' said Aaron Viles, with the Gulf Restoration Network. 'Right now, this is just a theory of a system.'
Congressman Charlie Melancon said, though, safety issues could still be addressed on a case-by-case basis for deepwater rigs.
'As I've said all along, we've got to find a way a place somewhere between, 'Drill, baby, drill' and the moratorium that shuts us down,' said Rep. Melancon, D-Louisiana. 'The people of the Gulf coast, the people of my district, at least, they want the oil industry back-- but they don't want to wake up one morning and have a BP episode again.'
The drilling forums will be held across the Gulf Coast, as well as in Alaska and California, before returning to Louisiana for the final one in September.