Sen. Bill Nelson, D-Fla., has asked that oil drilling along U.S. coasts cease until an investigation into a Gulf of Mexico oil rig explosion is completed.
In a letter to President Barack Obama, Nelson said he would introduce legislation to temporarily bar the Interior Department from authorizing an expansion in offshore drilling.
The senator suggested a congressional inquiry could be initiated into whether the government ensured appropriate contingencies were in place to prevent a major oil spill, Politico reported Friday.
An oil spill from the sunken Deepwater Horizon rig, wrecked by an explosion April 20, was threatening coastal areas and the economy in the Mississippi River delta. Hundreds of thousands of gallons of crude oil leaked into the gulf and 11 of the rig’s workers were missing and presumed dead.
“The questions about the practices of the oil industry raised in the wake of this still-unfolding incident require that you postpone indefinitely plans for expanded offshore drilling operations,” Nelson said in his letter to the president. “Until we learn what happened, I’m asking that you also call for an immediate halt to test-wells and all other exploratory operations in coastal waters.”
Nelson, a longtime opponent of offshore drilling, said he feared the spill could be “nearly as large as the Exxon Valdez” and “may be an environmental and economic disaster that wreaks havoc for commercial fishing and tourism.”
Responding to the letter, White House spokesman Ben LaBolt said the administration possibly would take action to stem further spills — in addition to inspections of deepwater rigs.
“We are also looking at additional immediate steps that we can take to reduce the potential for a catastrophic blowout like the one that occurred on Deepwater Horizon,” LaBolt said in a statement.
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