Watchdog Probes GOP Claims That Report 'Misrepresented' Experts on Drilling Moratorium

The Interior Department's inspector general has launched an investigation into allegations that the agency misrepresented the views of seven experts in its report on offshore drilling safety to justify a six-month moratorium, Republicans said.

Despite the report's assertion that the National Academy of Engineering experts "peer reviewed" Interior Secretary Ken Salazar's recommendation for a moratorium on existing drilling and new permits, the experts actually opposed it, saying the ban "will not measurably reduce risk further and it will have a lasting impact on the nation's economy which may be greater than that of the oil spill."

Salazar apologized to the experts and took full responsibility for not making clear in the report where the experts stood on the moratorium.

But Republicans on the Natural Resources Committee still called for an investigation.

"If the Obama administration purposefully manipulated the views of known experts on deepwater drilling and deceived the public, there should be serious consequences," Rep. Doc Hastings of Washington, the committee's ranking Republican, said in a written statement.

"The current moratorium on deepwater energy exploration is costing American's their jobs and causing significant economic harm to a region that cannot afford more hardships," he said.

"The people of the Gulf Coast are already suffering enough from the devastating economic and environmental effects of the oil spill," Rep. Doug Lamborn of Colorado, the ranking Republican member on the Energy and Minerals Subcommittee.

"Struggling families in the Gulf deserve to know if politics trumped science on the recommendation for a deepwater moratorium," he said.

The Interior Department said the moratorium was never intended to be considered by the experts.

"The NAE peer-reviewers were not asked to review or comment on the May 28, 2010, moratorium decision," Interior spokeswoman Kendra Barkoff said. "They were asked only to peer-review the 22 safety recommendations contained in the report on a technical basis, and they performed that task."

She referred all further questions to the inspector general's office.

The inspector general's office did not return a message seeking comment.

A U.S. federal judge last month blocked the ban, citing a lack of evidence that deepwater drilling was unsafe. But the administration issued a new moratorium this month that is no longer based on water depth and stresses new evidence of safety problems.