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U.S. issues new drilling rules

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The Obama administration Thursday unveiled new regulations aimed at permanently reshaping the nation's offshore drilling industry in the wake of the BP oil spill, but kept its deepwater drilling ban in place for now.

The stringent regulations released by the Interior Department establish new standards for cementing, blowout preventers and well design for offshore oil and gas projects.

"These new rules and the aggressive reform agenda we have undertaken are raising the bar for the oil and gas industry's safety and environmental practices on the Outer Continental Shelf," Interior Secretary Ken Salazar said in a speech at the Woodrow Wilson International Center.

In addition to requiring companies to independently certify the safety of their rig operations, oil firms will also have to develop plans to identify potential hazards to help prevent human errors on rigs.

Despite the new guidelines, Salazar said he was not ready to lift his department's moratorium on drilling at depths more than 500 feet.

"There will always be risks associated with deepwater drilling, but we will only lift the suspensions when I am comfortable that we have significantly reduced those risks," Salazar said.

The drilling ban, strongly opposed by Gulf Coast politicians and oil companies, is set to expire on Nov. 30. The department has said it hopes to end the ban early, however.

Michael Bromwich, head of Interior's Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, is supposed to give Salazar a report Thursday with guidance on whether the drilling ban should be modified.

When the ban ends, the department has admitted that drilling would not resume right away because energy companies would first have to meet new safety rules.

Erik Milito, of the American Petroleum Institute, said the government needs to ensure these new rules provide a framework for efficiently approving drilling permits.

"Operators want regulations that provide certainty," Milito said in a statement.

"Unpredictable, extended delays in permit review and approval discourage investment in new projects, which hampers job creation, reduces revenue to the government, and restricts energy production."

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