A judge for the US District Court for the Eastern District of Louisiana [official website] on Wednesday refused to reinstate a six-month drilling moratorium [JURIST report] issued in May by the Obama administration in response to the BP Deepwater Horizon oil spill [BBC backgrounder; JURIST news archive]. Judge Martin Feldman issued a preliminary injunction against the moratorium [JURIST report] last month, holding that the drilling ban caused irreparable harm to the plaintiffs, small oil companies that were harmed by the ban, and that the Obama administration had not considered proper alternatives when issuing the moratorium. The Obama administration has since issued a new drilling moratorium [JURIST report] affecting only specific types of drilling equipment. Advocacy groups, including the Defenders of Wildlife [advocacy website], asked the judge to consider reinstating the original moratorium because it would have effectively banned all deepwater oil drilling. The newly-issued moratorium will not have such a broad effect. The advocacy groups argued that Feldman should be disqualified from the case [Reuters report] because he owned stocks in several oil and drilling companies. Feldman denied the request saying it had no basis in the law. A lawsuit was filed Tuesday in federal court challenging the Obama administration's new drilling moratorium.
Earlier this month, the Obama administration asked a federal appeals court to reinstate the original six-month drilling moratorium [JURIST report], arguing that the ban should be upheld because the government would likely win its appeal of the lower court's ruling. The US Department of Justice (DOJ) [official website] originally asked the court of appeals to stay the preliminary injunction [JURIST report] in June, on the basis that another deepwater spill could overwhelm the ongoing efforts to clean up the spill with catastrophic results. Lawyers for the DOJ also claimed that that the district judge abused his discretion [Reuters report] in issuing the injunction. More than 120 million gallons of oil have leaked already from the rig's broken pipe and has now surpassed the Exxon Valdez oil spill [JURIST news archive] as the worst in US history.