Obama to keep drilling moratorium for 6 months-aide

WASHINGTON Thu May 27, 2010 7:59am EDT

Development Driller III, which is drilling a second relief well, floats on the surface near the site of the BP oil spill approximately 42 miles off the coast of Louisiana May 18, 2010. The oil company is hoping to have the well in operation in 90 to 120 days. REUTERS/Hans Deryk

Development Driller III, which is drilling a second relief well, floats on the surface near the site of the BP oil spill approximately 42 miles off the coast of Louisiana May 18, 2010. The oil company is hoping to have the well in operation in 90 to 120 days.

Credit: Reuters/Hans Deryk

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - President Barack Obama will announce a six month extension on a deepwater oil drilling moratorium on Thursday while a special commission studies the reasons for the Gulf of Mexico spill, a White House aide said.

"(Obama) will announce standards to strengthen oversight of the industry and enhance safety, a first step in a process that the independent Presidential Commission will continue," the aide said on Thursday.

"While the commission performs its work to determine how to prevent this from ever happening again, the moratorium on permits to drill new deepwater wells will continue for a period of six months."

The extended moratorium represents a further setback for offshore drilling expansion, a key plank of Obama's proposed energy policy overhaul, which is currently languishing in the U.S. Senate.

Democrats hoped increased drilling would attract Republican support for the bill, which also ramps up domestic production of renewable fuel sources and sets limits on greenhouse gas emissions blamed for global warming.

Interior Secretary Ken Salazar briefed Obama and his advisers about the contents of a report about the spill and the deadly blast aboard the Deepwater Horizon rig, which was leased by BP, on Wednesday night, the aide said.

The president is expected to discuss details of the report and his administration's response to the spill at a 12:45 p.m. EDT (1645 GMT) White House news conference.

Obama will announce delays or cancellations of planned exploration in certain areas around the country, the aide said.

Planned exploration off the coast of Alaska in the Chukchi and Beaufort seas will be put off pending the presidential commission's review, he said, while an August lease sale in the western Gulf will be canceled.

"The lease sale off the coast of Virginia will also be canceled due to environmental concerns and concerns raised by the Defense Department," he said.

Obama has come under increasing pressure to stop the spill and halt its environmental and economic consequences for Gulf states. BP, which has been publicly scolded by the president, was working on Thursday to plug the leaking well in a procedure known as "top kill."

Obama's bipartisan presidential commission is modeled after previous panels that looked into the 1986 explosion of the space shuttle Challenger and the Three Mile Island nuclear accident in 1979.

(Editing by Vicki Allen)