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Obama Faces Backlash On Drilling Moratorium


Of course, no group is more frustrated with BP and the ongoing oil spill than the people in the Gulf. But even as cleanup and recovery efforts continue, President Obama faces growing criticism in the Gulf for his decision to halt new deepwater drilling.


In Louisiana, many business and government leaders say the six month moratorium will devastate their region's oil industry.

NPR's Brian Mann reports.

BRIAN MANN: At a standing room only rally yesterday afternoon in New Orleans, business and civic leaders vented their anger at BP for causing the nation's worst-ever oil spill. But they quickly pivoted to lob their harshest criticisms at President Obama and his decision to suspend deepwater oil exploration in the Gulf.

Mr. DALE BENOIT (Chair, Plaquemine Association of Business and Industry): If the disaster was our Katrina, then the moratorium was the levies breaking.

MANN: Dale Benoit leads a business group in Plaquemine Parish, an area hit hard by the oil spill. He says the region can recover from soiled beaches and wetlands, but not from a crippled oil industry.

Mr. BENOIT: And thats what President Obama has done with his moratorium. He has bound us where we cannot recover.

MANN: The moratorium is expected to idle roughly 33 new wells that were under development in the Gulf.

Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal says some oil companies will simply pack up their mobile drilling rigs and move them elsewhere. Here he is speaking at a press conference last week.

Governor BOBBY JINDAL (Republican, Louisiana): They're going to move those rigs to Brazil. They'll move those rigs to Africa. They'll move those rigs to other countries and they won't come back for years.

MANN: Yesterday, Barclays Capital issued a report estimating that the president's moratorium will cut overall oil industry spending in the U.S. by $1.6 billion this year. Many oil industry supply companies along the coast are already feeling the squeeze.

Leslie Bertucci(ph) and her husband run a shipping business in Harvey, Louisiana that hauls hazardous chemicals out to the deepwater platforms.

Ms. LESLIE BERTUCCI: I can't pay my employees. We can't pay our business loans. We can't order anything or pay our vendors.

MANN: One surprising twist here is that many fishermen agree that the moratorium should be lifted. Peter Voinovich(ph) from Plaquemines Parish used to harvest oysters before oil from the Deepwater Horizon started washing ashore. He's furious at BP, but Voinovich points out that a lot of fisherman have family and friends working in the oil business.

Mr. PETER VOINOVICH (Oysterman): You learn from your mistakes, so they say. I can't see punishing a whole industry because of one company's failure.

MANN: You hear this a lot here, the idea that fishing and oil have coexisted for decades. But not everyone is convinced that new deepwater exploration should get the green light.

Ms. CYNTHIA SARTHOU (Gulf Restoration Network): I don't think six months it too long to take the time to actually look at this, and look at the technology, and determine what we need to do to drill safely.

MANN: Cynthia Sarthou heads an environmental group in Louisiana called the Gulf Restoration Network. Sarthou is convinced that the commission appointed by President Obama to investigate the Deepwater Horizon disaster will turn up more safety and environmental problems on other rigs.

Ms. SARTHOU: I think you're going to find that people cut corners. I think, like any business, if you try to cut corners to make profits.

MANN: Critics of the oil industry point to spill response plans developed by several companies that include inaccurate and incomplete information. During testimony before Congress this week, oil industry executives acknowledge that even the biggest companies aren't prepared to deal with major deep water spills. Given these lingering questions and the fact that millions of barrels of oil are still surging into the Gulf, some Louisiana fishermen say the president's cautious approach makes sense.

Clarence Duplassis(ph) is an oysterman from Plaquemines Parish who testified before a House panel last week.

Mr. CLARENCE DUPLASSIS (Oysterman): If he says go ahead and drill and next week we get another oil spill, the same people that are saying, you know, go ahead and drill, they're going to say, hey, you dummy. You shouldn't have done that. We just had an accident.

MANN: This week, President Obama finished appointing the seven-member commission that will investigate the Deepwater Horizon explosion. Meanwhile, BP has agreed to establish a separate $100 million fund to help oil workers and companies idled by the moratorium.

Brian Mann, NPR News, New Orleans.

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AMOS: This is MORNING EDITION from NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Brian Mann