There was consternation in the Alaska oil patch today after the Obama administration announced plans to halt all new offshore oil drilling until an investigation into the Deepwater Horizon accident off Louisiana is complete.
Shell plans to drill off the Arctic coast starting in July, and to do that the company will need to start shipping workers and materials north from Seattle in June. Whether it will be willing to take the risk of sending an armada north while unsure as to whether drilling will be permitted is unknown.
Shell spokesman Curtis Smith said the company will continue moving forward with plans for summer drilling unless told to stop. So far, they have received no such order from the Obama administration. An aide to Sen. Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, an oil industry supporter, said the staff in her Washington office is trying to determine exactly the administration's plan.
How long a federal investigation into the explosion and sinking of the Deepwater Horizon might take is unknown. Oil industry officials have noted the technology being used by the Horizon to drill 5,000 feet deep beneath the surface of the ocean was different than the established technology for drilling at lesser depths. The industry has argued that shallow-water technology is well proven, but it was unknown whether the Obama administration is willing -- given the politics of oil now drifting ashore in Louisiana -- to draw a distinction.
So far the White House has said only that there will be "no new domestic offshore drilling" until the investigation is complete.
Asked to expand on that today on the television show "Good Morning America," senior White House adviser David Axelrod said the president is willing to let some offshore drilling continue, as he announced almost a month ago, but "no additional drilling has been authorized and none will until we find out what happened here and whether there was something unique and preventable here.''
Unclear at this time is whether that "additional drilling'' includes work already in the planning stages for the summer -- as is the case with Shell in Alaska -- or any drilling that isn't actually underway. Axelrod appeared to indicate it was the latter, suggesting not another bit would hit the seabed off the U.S. coast until "there is an adequate review of what happened here and what is being proposed elsewhere."