At his long-awaited press conference on the Gulf oil disaster last month, President Obama announced a moratorium on new oil drilling and exploration for six months. "We can't do this stuff if we don't have confidence that we can prevent crises like this from happening again," he declared. But while existing rigs may be out of commission for the near future, the administration hasn't exactly put the brakes on new oil and gas drilling ventures. In recent weeks, the government has quietly approved the sale of more than 400 new leases for vast swaths of the Gulf of Mexico. And these contracts—which mark the first step in the drilling process—were subjected to the same slapdash environmental oversight that failed to prevent the BP catastrophe.
The region was included in a plan created by the Bush administration's Department of the Interior to lease new areas of the Gulf to the oil and gas industries. But it was Obama's Interior secretary, Ken Salazar, who gave the go-ahead for the sale of Lease 213—6,800 tracts covering 36 million acres off the coasts of Louisiana, Mississippi, and Alabama in November 2009. The sale—which was held on March 17 this year in the New Orleans Superdome—attracted $1.3 billion in bids. Since then, the Department of the Interior's Minerals Management Service (MMS) has approved the sale of 448 of those tracts, 198 of them in deepwater, which is defined as more than 656 feet below the sea. BP is the proud new leaser of 13 of those tracts.