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Fifth Circuit gives government more time to decide on offshore drilling permits

A panel of judges for the US Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit [official website] stayed a ruling [order, PDF] Tuesday that would have forced the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, Regulation and Enforcement (BOEMRE) [official website] to approve or deny five applications for offshore drilling permits by March 19. The stay bars enforcement, pending appeal, of a February 17 injunction [order, PDF] by a judge from the US District Court for the Eastern District of Louisiana [official website] giving BOEMRE 30 days to approve or deny applications filed by British drilling company Ensco, Plc [corporate website]. Judge Martin Feldman ruled in February that BOEMRE's delay of over four months in reviewing the permits was unreasonable. The Fifth Circuit's order granted the government's request for a stay without explanation.

In late February, the BOEMRE approved an offshore drilling permit [press release] for the first time since the Deepwater Horizon oil spill [BBC backgrounder; JURIST news archive]. Earlier that month, Feldman found the US Department of Interior (DOI) [official website] in contempt for a drilling moratorium issued last July after Feldman enjoined enforcement of an earlier moratorium [JURIST reports]. Feldman's February 17 order reversed a January decision by Feldman refusing Ensco's request to put a deadline [JURIST reports] on when the BOEMRE must make its decision.

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