Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Judge Blocks Deep-Water Drilling Moratorium

Judge Blocks Deep-Water Drilling Moratorium
June 22, 2010

WASHINGTON — A federal judge in New Orleans on Tuesday blocked a six-month moratorium on deep-water drilling projects that the Obama administration had imposed in response to the vast oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico.

The White House swiftly said the administration would appeal the decision.

In a 22-page ruling, Judge Martin L. C. Feldman of Federal District Court issued a preliminary injunction against the enforcement of a May 28 order halting all floating offshore drilling projects in more than 500 feet of water and preventing the government from issuing new permits for such projects.

Citing the economic harm to businesses and workers in the gulf caused by the moratorium, Judge Feldman — a 1983 appointee of President Ronald Reagan — wrote that the Obama administration had failed to justify the need for the sweeping suspension, which he characterized as “generic, indeed punitive.”

He wrote that “the blanket moratorium, with no parameters, seems to assume that because one rig failed and although no one yet fully knows why, all companies and rigs drilling new wells over 500 feet also universally present an imminent danger.”

The bulletin of the judge’s decision came on reporters’ hand-held devices just as Robert Gibbs, the White House press secretary, had ended his daily briefing. Clearly prepared for it, Mr. Gibbs said the administration would “immediately appeal” to the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals.

Mr. Gibbs said the president “strongly believes that continuing to drill at those depths without knowing what’s happened” in the April 20 explosion on the Deepwater Horizon drilling rig, which killed 11 workers and left a well gushing out of control, “makes no sense” and puts people’s lives at risk.

The Obama administration had argued that a six-month suspension of deepwater drilling was necessary so that the government could complete its investigation of the Deepwater Horizon accident, and make sure that other drilling operations on the outer continental shelf were safe.

But the order was challenged by a coalition of businesses that provide services and equipment to offshore drilling platforms. The companies sued, asking the judge to declare the moratorium to be invalid and arguing that there was no evidence that existing operations were unsafe.

The State of Louisiana filed a brief supporting the lawsuit, arguing that the moratorium would damage its economy.

Jackie Calmes contributed reporting.

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