A judge for the US District Court for the Eastern District of Louisiana [official website] on Wednesday found [order] the US Department of Interior (DOI) [official website] in contempt and ordered the department to pay attorney's fees for Hornbeck Offshore Services [corporate website] and several other drilling companies challenging the government's latest moratorium on offshore drilling [JURIST report]. Judge Martin Feldman found that the government violated his preliminary injunction [opinion, PDF] to lift a six-month moratorium on deepwater drilling [JURIST report] when US Interior Secretary Ken Salazar [official profile] issued a new moratorium that was substantially the same as the previous one and that it would cause the same financial injury to the industry as the first moratorium. In holding the DOI in civil contempt, Judge Feldman ruled:
Each step the government took following the Court's imposition of a preliminary injunction showcases its defiance: the government failed to seek a remand; it continually reaffirmed its intention and resolve to restore the moratorium; it even notified operators that though a preliminary injunction had issued, they could quickly expect a new moratorium. Such dismissive conduct, viewed in tandem with the reimposition of a second blanket and substantively identical moratorium and in light of the national importance of this case, provide this Court with clear and convincing evidence of the government's contempt of this Court's preliminary injunction Order.Feldman referred the matter to a magistrate judge to determine the amount of fees to be paid.
Feldman refused to reinstate the moratorium [JURIST report] last year 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.