Oversight: Obama Admin. Decision to Include Gulf Drilling Moratorium in DOI Report
The Committee is conducting an extensive investigation into how and why an Obama Administration report that recommended a six-month drilling moratorium in the Gulf of Mexico was edited to make it appear as though the moratorium was supported by a panel of engineering experts. The Administration has failed to comply with repeated requests from the Committee for documents that would explain the decision to include the drilling moratorium in the report – including how the decision was made and who within the Administration was involved, including White House officials – and whether the misrepresentation of the experts endorsing the moratorium was intentional, a question that the Office of Inspector General report did not directly answer. The moratorium cost thousands of jobs and caused widespread economic harm throughout the Gulf.
On May 27, 2010, Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar published a report at the request of the President entitled Increased Safety Measures for Energy Development on the Outer Continental Shelf (also referred to as the '30 Day Safety Report'). Among other recommendations, the report proposed an immediate six-month drilling moratorium in the Gulf of Mexico that resulted in significant economic harm and job loss.
In its report, DOI stated that it drew expertise from “within the Federal Government, academia, professional engineers, industry, and other governments’ regulatory programs.” In particular, the report noted that seven members of the National Academy of Engineering peer reviewed the recommendations – making it appear as if they also supported the recommendation to impose a drilling moratorium. However, these peer reviewers were not in fact asked to evaluate the moratorium, which was inserted into the report shortly before it was finalized and without any scientific or technical review or analysis of economic impacts.
After the release of the report, the experts were forced to rebut the implication that they had approved the six-month moratorium. In a joint letter they noted “we do not agree with the six-month blanket moratorium on floating drilling. A moratorium was added after the final review and was never agreed to by the contributors.” The experts noted that “A blanket moratorium is not the answer. It will not measurably reduce risk further and it will have a lasting impact on the nation's economy which may be greater than that of the oil spill.
Following calls from House Natural Resources Committee Chairman Hastings and other Natural Resources Committee Republicans, an Office of Inspector General (OIG) investigation was conducted and concluded, “the White House edits of the original draft DOI Executive Summary led to the implication that the moratorium has been peer reviewed by the experts.”
Since April 2011, the Committee has conducted extensive oversight on this issue and sent numerous document requests to the Interior Department that have largely gone unanswered. The Department has also intervened to block the Inspector General from providing 13 separate documents to the Committee that were collected during their investigation.
The Committee’s investigation, along with the IG report, has raised a number of questions. These include how the decisions to impose the drilling moratorium was made and whether the edits to the report’s Executive Summary were made to suggest the moratorium had been peer reviewed when it was not. The OIG was unable to independently verify whether the report’s authors intended to mislead the public.
On January 25, 2012 Chairman Hastings and Subcommittee Chairman Lamborn sent a letter to Secretary Salazar to demand compliance with document requests and noticed their intention to compel production of specific documents sought if these deadlines are not met.