Lawmakers grilled Interior Secretary Ken Salazar yesterday about his department’s six-month ban on deepwater drilling, a decision they said may cost the already battered Gulf of Mexico region thousands of jobs.


The Obama administration halted exploratory drilling at depths of more than 500 feet and instituted more stringent safety rules in response to the April explosion of the Deepwater Horizon drilling rig and subsequent oil spill.


Lawmakers at a Senate Energy and Natural Resources committee hearing pushed back on these decisions, arguing they would hurt Gulf state economies dependent on the oil industry.


“It could potentially wreak economic havoc on this region that exceeds the havoc wreaked by the spill itself,” said Sen. Mary Landrieu, a Democrat from Louisiana.

Landrieu cited a letter she received from eight experts who advised the department on its new safety recommendations but do not support the moratorium. She also said the ban could affect 330,000 jobs in Louisiana alone.

Salazar defended the administration’s response, but said it was possible the ban could be lifted in less than half a year. He said the administration has to make sure that operations are safe and that there will never be a repeat of this spill.