*BOEM head says Mariner fire last week reminds of risks
*But he still expects decision by Nov. 30 expiration date
By Bruce Nichols
HOUSTON, Sept 7 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
"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
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)