US official defends new deepwater oil drilling ban
* U.S. not able to handle another spill now
* White House panel questions need for lengthy ban
By Ayesha Rascoe
NEW ORLEANS, Louisiana, July 13 (Reuters) - The head of the U.S. agency charged with regulating offshore oil drilling on Tuesday defended the new deepwater drilling moratorium, saying the risk of another disaster remains too high as the government battles to deal with the BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico.
Michael Bromwich, appointed last month to head the Interior Department's Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, told a White House panel tasked with offering recommendations on the future of offshore drilling that the nation does not have the resources to handle another spill.
"So long as the spill is out there and it is not being contained and the oil spill response capabilities are all being consumed by the current oil spill ... it is simply too risky to allow deepwater drilling to continue," Bromwich said.
The agency needs time to consider implementing new safety rules and requiring site specific response plans before exploratory drilling goes ahead, he said.
The Interior Department will host about a dozen public meetings over the next 60 days in the Gulf coast, California, and Alaska to gather input on its plans, Bromwich added.
The April 20 Deepwater Horizon rig explosion and subsequent spill spurred the government's original six-month moratorium on exploratory drilling in waters at depths more that 500 feet. Continued...