Latest fire won't extend oil drill ban - official

Tue Sep 7, 2010 9:18pm BST

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*BOEM head says Mariner fire last week reminds of risks

*But he still expects decision by Nov. 30 expiration date

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By Bruce Nichols

HOUSTON, Sept 7 (Reuters) - Fire on another Gulf of Mexico oil platform last week will not slow a decision whether to lift the U.S. drilling moratorium imposed after the BP Plc (BP.L) (BP.N) well disaster last spring, a key federal official said Tuesday.

"I don't think it changes the timeline," Michael Bromwich, director of the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, told reporters at a forum on steps needed to prevent another disaster like BP's Macondo well blowout and oil spill.

The fire Thursday on a Mariner Energy Inc ME.N production platform 240 miles west of the Macondo well, from which all 13 crew escaped and there was little oil spilled, served as a reminder of the risks of offshore work, Bromwich said.

Eleven workers died in the BP disaster, and it triggered the worst offshore oil spill in U.S. history. The well has been capped since mid-July.

The spill prompted the White House to slap a moratorium on new U.S. offshore oil drilling until Nov. 30, a move which has been criticized by the oil industry and has been subject to several lawsuits.

Bromwich said he still plans to deliver a report on industry reforms to Interior Secretary Ken Salazar by Oct. 31 or before, which will form the basis for a decision before the Nov. 30 target date for an end to the drilling moratorium.

He declined to predict when the moratorium might be lifted, but he said the Obama administration will not await the outcome of a joint Coast Guard-Interior Department probe to proceed.

"Secretary Salazar and I have made the decision that we think we're going to have enough information to make a soundly grounded, based-on-the-evidence decision, even without the full and complete results of the investigations," Bromwich said.

Asked whether the moratorium might be extended past Nov. 30, Salazar said, "I don't think it is necessarily likely."

Bromwich said proposed new rules to be issued Sept. 30 will not be a surprise, and it should not take long for companies to comply. He said most new rules being discussed were in the first recommendation to President Obama last May.

"We'll have to work out the specifics of their proving to us that they've complied with those new requirements," Bromwich said. "But I don't want you to think that the mere fact that we're issuing new rules ... is necessarily going to lengthen the time by which companies are going to be able to comply." (Reporting by Bruce Nichols)

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