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May 16, 2010

Reports show NOAA knew Gulf of Mexico drilling operations were illegal

Since the start of the Obama administration, an Interior Department agency has authorized more than 300 drilling operations in the Gulf of Mexico without first obtaining permits from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, according to published reports and the notice of intent to file a law suit by an environmental non-profit.

The law suit announcement by the Center for Biological Diversity on Friday names Interior Secretary Ken Salazar as the intended defendant for bypassing permitting from NOAA, whose responsibility it is to enforce the Marine Mammal Protection Act and the Endangered Species Act.

In a story Friday, The New York Times, which counted three lease sales, 103 seismic blasting projects and 346 drilling plans approved by the Minerals Management Service without NOAA permits, reported that NOAA in consultations and writing has repeatedly warned that the extractive activities effectively were illegal without permits.

"Federal records indicate that these consultations ended with NOAA instructing the minerals agency that continued drilling in the gulf was harming endangered marine mammals and that the agency needed to get permits to be in compliance with federal law," The New York Times reported.

In September 2009, NOAA administrator Jane Lubchenco wrote to the minerals agency that it had created a pattern of understating the risks of harm of a major oil spill in the gulf and the frequency of spills.

The New York Times said minerals agency scientists — speaking anonymously — have made similar claims about their agency.

However, the apparently un-permitted work continued, and on April 20, British Petroleum's Deepwater Horizon drilling platform exploded, killing 11 workers and beginning an uninterrupted eruption of crude oil into the gulf; it is an environmental crisis that continues to frustrate control or even certain definition.

Various experimental operations to completely stop the flow have failed. How much is projecting from the well head more than a mile down is uncertain with estimates across a wide range.

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