WASHINGTON, June 9 (UPI) -- The moratorium on new deep water drilling called after the Gulf of Mexico oil spill is temporary, U.S. Interior Secretary Ken Salazar told lawmakers Wednesday.
Salazar told the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee the Obama administration could end a six-month moratorium on exploratory wells in deep waters sooner if a presidential commission finishes its investigation on the oil spill ahead of schedule, The Wall Street Journal reported.
If the commission doesn't finish its investigation in six months, he said he couldn't say whether the moratorium would be extended.
"(It's) a situation that we will have to assess as we move forward and we'll adjust accordingly," Salazar said.
"We want to see much more than a pause," Sen. Bob Menendez, D-N.J., said.
The moratorium has caused concern among gulf states leaders and oil-state lawmakers because deep water drilling accounts for about a quarter of all U.S. oil production and the bulk of oil production in the Gulf of Mexico, the Journal said.
The secretary told the panel production from existing deep water wells continues "with very little interruption" because of oil rising from the BP pipe on the gulf floor. On April 20, the rig exploded, killing 11 workers, and sank two days later. It has been spewing oil into the gulf since.
The Senate's Energy and National Resources Committee meeting was one of several hearings on Capitol Hill related to the oil spill.
Diane Wilson, a protester identifying herself to reporters as a fisherwoman, disrupted the Salazar hearing when she poured a jar of liquid resembling oil on herself, The Hill reported.
Capitol Hill police grabbed Wilson and escorted her from the hearing room. A Senate aide who witnessed the incident said staff had difficulty cleaning up the black mess.
If the moratorium "lasts very much longer than a few months, it could potentially wreak economic havoc on this region that exceeds the havoc wreaked by the rig itself," Sen. Mary Landrieu, D-La., said.
Salazar said the importance of employment in the region "has been very much on the mind of the president and my mind as well."
He also told Landrieu the Obama administration would force BP, based in Britain, to pay salaries of oil services workers who lose their jobs because of the spill.