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U.S. announces drilling moratorium details

WASHINGTON, May 30 (UPI) -- The Interior Department Sunday announced details of a six-month moratorium on deepwater oil drilling on the Outer Continental Shelf.

The department issued a Moratorium Notice to Lessees and Operators notifying them of requirements to be imposed under the moratorium ordered by Secretary Ken Salazar more than one month after an explosion on a Gulf of Mexico oil rig killed 11 workers and touched off a spill that officials say may persist into August.

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Salazar said the moratorium -- which does not apply to existing production operations -- will give officials time to implement safety requirements and allow a presidential commission to conduct its investigation.

"Deepwater production from the Gulf of Mexico will continue subject to close oversight and safety requirements, but deepwater drilling operations must safely come to a halt," Salazar said in a statement issued by the department Sunday.

The notice directs oil and gas lessees and operators to cease drilling new deepwater wells and notifies lessees the Minerals Management Service, with some exceptions, will not consider deepwater and related drilling permits for six months.

Drilling operations already under way are to "proceed at the next safe opportunity to secure the well and take all necessary steps to cease operations and temporarily abandon or close the well until they receive further guidance from the Regional Supervisor for Field Operations."

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Lessees that pursue existing deepwater production must obtain approval for their activities from the Department of the Interior, the announcement said.

The White House said Sunday Coast Guard Adm. Thad Allen, the commander of the U.S. response to the spill, and by Carol Browner, an assistant to the president for energy and climate change, told President Barack Obama the Gulf of Mexico oil spill flow rate could increase by 20 percent before it is contained.

In a statement issued Sunday, the administration said the president has ordered a tripling of government and contractor resources in the response to the spill.

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