NEW ORLEANS – The Obama administration is seeking to reverse a recent court ruling that overturned its six-month ban on offshore oil drilling following the Deepwater Horizon incident.
A submission by Ken Salazar, interior secretary, to the federal appeals court in New Orleans challenges a June 22 ruling by Martin Feldman, a Louisiana federal judge, that the ban on deepwater drilling in the Gulf of Mexico was too broad. His judgment was in a case brought by offshore industry companies that opposed the ban.
Even if the appeals court decision upholds Mr. Feldman’s ruling, the government can still use bureaucratic procedure to further delay drilling while it probes the safety of the offshore industry, an industry spokesman said on July 8.
Lee Hunt, president of the Houston-based International Association of Drilling Contractors, said that the administration had told the industry it would introduce a new, more tightly targeted moratorium if it lost its appeal. That meant that 33 rigs that had halted work until the legal issue was resolved were unlikely to resume immediately even if the government lost its case, he said.
Hunt also said that as a result of a re-organization of federal regulation of the industry following the spill, the permitting process had slowed and there was a “moratorium by indecision” that was having a knock-on effect even on shallow-water drilling.
The moratorium has been widely condemned in Louisiana and other Gulf Coast states affected by the spill. Politicians say it will cause local job losses and encourage deepwater drillers to move operations to other regions such as Brazil and Africa. The state of Louisiana has told the court that the drilling industry is worth $3 billion annually to its economy.