A judge for the US District Court for the Eastern District of Louisiana [official website] on Wednesday dismissed claims challenging the Obama Administration's moratorium on deepwater drilling, which was enacted following the Deepwater Horizon oil spill [BBC backgrounder; JURIST news archive] in the Gulf of Mexico. US District Judge Martin Feldman said that the claims filed by drilling companies against US Interior Secretary Ken Salazar [official profile] are no longer relevant [Bloomberg report] because both moratoriums have been lifted. Salazar announced in October [JURIST report] that the six-month moratorium on certain types of deepwater oil drilling would come to an end [press release] some seven weeks ahead of schedule. In announcing the lifting of the moratorium, Salazar said that new drilling regulations enacted in October [JURIST report] and industry safety strategies developed in the wake of the oil spill have reduced the likelihood of future incidents such that the ban was no longer needed. Feldman did not rule on additional claims filed by against the government, which allege that federal regulators have delayed the granting of permits under the new regulations and that new regulations requiring permits exceed the authority of the administrators. The government has indicated that permits will be granted when drilling companies comply with the stated standards [NYT report]. The court is scheduled to address the remaining claims later this month.
In September, Feldman denied [order, PDF; JURIST report] the government's motion to dismiss a lawsuit filed by Hornbeck Offshore Services [corporate website] and several other drilling companies challenging the government's most recent moratorium on offshore drilling. The second moratorium directive was issued in July [JURIST report] by Salazar after the district court and the US Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit [official website] granted an injunction [JURIST report] against the government's initial directive. 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. In June, the US Department of Justice (DOJ) [official website] asked the court of appeals to stay the preliminary injunction of the original moratorium [JURIST report] 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.