Jul 26, 2010 1:18 PM by Melissa Canone
WASHINGTON - The U.S. Interior Department's inspector general is conducting an investigation into how the Obama administration came up with its recommendation for a six-month moratorium on deepwater drilling in the Gulf.
Acting Inspector General Mary Kendall sent a letter to two of the seven congressmen who requested the probe, notifying them of the decision.
The congressmen made the request after seven members of a science panel that reviewed safety concerns related to the moratorium complained that their names were used to appear that they supported the ban.
U.S. Rep. Bill Cassidy, R-Baton Rouge, among those who sought the review, called the news of the investigation bittersweet.
"It's just bad that we're losing these jobs," said Cassidy, who has introduced a bill to repeal the moratorium. "To the degree that we can prevent science from being corrupted to support bad political decisions then we've accomplished something."
Kendall sent the letter revealing the investigation to U.S. Rep. Doc Hastings, R-Wash., who serves as the most veteran Republican on the U.S. House Natural Resources Committee.
"I am happy because there seems to be a pattern of wanting a moratorium under this administration despite the facts that seem pretty obvious," Hastings said.
The moratorium, imposed after the explosion of the BP Deepwater Horizon rig that killed 11 workers April 20, has been decried by Louisiana congressmen and oil industry leaders.
Industry supporters from the state say that the moratorium on 33 exploratory wells in the Gulf has shut down the oil industry economy and idled thousands of Louisiana workers.
A federal judge and an appeals panel have both struck down the moratorium. The administration has since imposed a new moratorium tailored to rigs that contain subsea blowout preventers, the machinery suspected of stopping the rise of methane gas in the explosion.
The new moratorium would affect the same 33 rigs but will allow the administration to say that they've made the decision based on safety decisions.
After the May 27 report was delivered to Obama and the scientists objected to having their name on it, the Interior Department apologized saying that it had not intended for it to appear that the scientists - who opposed the moratorium - supported it.
Asked about the investigation on Thursday, Interior Department spokeswoman Kendra Barkoff said the scientists were never asked their opinion on the moratorium.
"They were asked only to peer-review the 22 safety recommendations contained in the report on a technical basis and they performed that task," Barkoff said.
Bob Bea of the University of California, Berkeley, one of the scientists on the panel, said Thursday that he met with two members of the Inspector General's special investigations division two weeks ago in New Orleans.
Bea said the three and a half hour interview focused on his thoughts about the development of the moratorium, the federal court ruling and the moratorium itself.
"If something good comes from it that's great," said Bea, who opposes the moratorium. "If it's a continuation of what we've been doing, it's time to go sailing."
Martin Chenevert, a professor at the University of Texas, said he welcomed the investigation.
"I think that is a very serious event that took place that is hurting the state," said Chenevert, who grew up in New Orleans. "I'm please to hear that they're doing (the investigation.)"