The Department of the Interior announced last week that full environmental assessments will be required for all new deepwater drilling. Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar and the new Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, Regulation and Enforcement Director Michael Bromwich said the interior will no longer use categorical exclusions for offshore oil and gas development. These "categorical exclusions" allowed the department to approve oil and gas drilling without first preparing environmental assessments required under the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA). Categorical exclusions used to approve BP plans for drilling were created in 1981 and 1986, over 20 years ago, and long before deepwater drilling became mainstream.
These policies will be in place while the DOI reviews NEPA processes and the use of categorical exclusions and other environmental reviews that should be required for offshore activity. These actions come in response to a report the Council on Environmental Quality released last week, showing flaws in the approval of BP's well. The report reveals the MMS admitted the probability of major environmental impacts from an offshore spill, but determined these impacts would not be catastrophic to the region, animal populations, and ecosystems. Contrary, the BP disaster is now being tabbed the worst environmental disaster in US history. Since August 13, the US Fish and Wildlife Service has collected almost 5,000 dead animals, including 4,080 birds and 525 sea turtles. Click here to read the DOI announcement and CEQ review.