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Federal judge rules against drilling moratorium

A judge for the US District Court for the Eastern District of Louisiana [official website] on Wednesday denied [order, PDF] the government's motion to dismiss a lawsuit filed by Hornbeck Offshore Services [corporate website] and several other drilling companies challenging the government's latest moratorium on offshore drilling. The moratorium directive was issued on July 12 [JURIST report] by Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar [official website] after the district court and US Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit [official website] granted an injunction against the government's initial directive issued on May 28. The drilling companies maintain that the latest moratorium is substantially the same as the previous one and that it would cause the same financial injury to the industry as the first moratorium. The government argued that the latest lawsuit was moot because the secretary had voluntarily withdrawn the initial directive and the latest moratorium was based on additional information. The initial moratorium banned drilling below 500 feet for six months until November 30, 2010, while the latest moratorium applies to all rigs that use blowout preventers on floating facilities until the same date. Judge Martin Feldman found that there were "no substantial changes" between the initial directive and the July 12 directive, the latest directive was "litigation posturing," the new moratorium did nothing to amend or prevent the wrongs found in the first moratorium, and that the wrongful behavior alleged in the first directive could be reasonably expected to occur as a result of the July 12 moratorium.

Feldman refused to reinstate the moratorium [JURIST report] last month at the request of advocacy groups such as the Defenders of Wildlife [advocacy website], which also argued that the judge should be disqualified from the case because he owned stock in several oil and drilling companies. Feldman refused to recuse himself [JURIST report]. Earlier in July, 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 in issuing the injunction. The Deepwater Horizon oil spill was a result of an oil well blowout that caused an explosion 5,000 feet below the surface of the Gulf. More than 120 million gallons of oil leaked from the rig's broken pipe causing the spill to surpass the Exxon Valdez [JURIST news archive] as the worst oil spill in US history.

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