Gulf Lawmakers Plead With Obama to Ease Drilling Ban, Warn of Economic Blow

Bipartisan pressure is building on the Obama administration to reconsider its ban on new offshore drilling, with Gulf lawmakers decrying the moratorium as an overreaction to the BP oil spill that  will compound the economic damage the disaster is inflicting on their states.

Lawmakers and industry groups warn that the moratorium could cost thousands of jobs and drain hundreds of millions of dollars out of the local economy. That's on top of the billions of dollars studies predict could be lost from hits to the tourism and fishing industries along the Gulf.

President Obama, in an interview Thursday, defended the decision as necessary to give officials time to figure out what went wrong before the Deepwater Horizon rig exploded April 20 -- killing 11 workers and triggering the historic leak -- and how to prevent such a disaster from happening again.

"Until that happens, it would be irresponsible of me to lift that moratorium," Obama said on CNN.

Following conflicting signs from his administration, Obama said that the moratorium only applies to deepwater wells, as opposed to those in shallow water.

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But with the ban on new deepwater drilling extended for a six-month period, lawmakers are adamant that a compromise be reached. They are also concerned new restrictions on shallow-water drilling could hinder the local industry.

"Obviously we need to learn the lessons from this incident ... but to completely shut down deepwater (drilling) and even threaten shallow water is a huge economic blow," Sen. David Vitter, R-La., told Fox News on Friday. "And on top of the recession and on top of the hit that the oil is directly making on our economy, that is another big, big economic blow that is going to knock us down."

Vitter suggested the administration instead start an "immediate and very rigorous" safety inspection program, while only shutting down those rigs that have problems that can't be addressed immediately. Vitter said he planned to speak with Obama about the issue during his visit to the Gulf coast Friday -- the president's third since the oil leak began.

The senator wrote in a letter to Obama on Thursday that the deepwater drilling ban, which is estimated to affect 33 rigs in the Gulf, could eliminate up to 4,000 Louisiana jobs in the short-term and "possibly 20,000 jobs throughout the course of the year."

Sen. Mary Landrieu, D-La., warned about the danger of a permanent flight of the industry from the region.

"If these big rigs ever leave the Gulf ... it's not like you can make those every day or every year. Some of them take years to build. If they leave the Gulf and go drill under long-term contracts off the coast of Africa, they're not coming home any time soon," she said.

The Louisiana Mid-Continent Oil and Gas Association, a trade group representing oil and gas interests in the Gulf region, estimates that lost wages from all 33 rigs could total $330 million per month.

The National Ocean Industries Association, citing the figures, said in a statement that the six-month moratorium will "make things much worse by putting more Gulf citizens out of work."

Obama was looking to expand offshore drilling before the BP disaster. The explosion led him to rethink that element of his energy plan, as he delayed or canceled lease sales in the Gulf, off the coast of Virginia and off the coast of Alaska.

The White House on Thursday acknowledged there will be job losses from the moratorium.

"I don't think there's any doubt," Press Secretary Robert Gibbs said.

But he argued that the commission investigating the incident needs to be able to first determine what "failsafe" measures can be implemented to prevent future disasters.

"I think that's important. The president thought that was important. I think that the citizens of the Gulf think that's important," Gibbs said.