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Federal judge allows lawsuit over BP Deepwater Horizon drilling leases

A judge for the US District Court for the Southern District of Alabama [official website] ruled [opinion, PDF] Monday that environmental groups' lawsuit, challenging the government approval of oil drilling leases granted to the British Petroleum (BP) Deepwater Horizon rig in the Gulf of Mexico, may continue. The Southern Environmental Law Center and the Defenders of Wildlife [advocacy websites] claim that the Bureau of Ocean Energy, Management, and Enforcement (BOEMRE) [official website], formerly the Minerals Management Service (MMS), violated the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) [EPA materials] and the Endangered Species Act (ESA) [text] by approving more 221 drilling licenses for the Gulf of Mexico after last year's Deepwater Horizon oil spill [BBC backgrounder; JURIST news archive]. They argue that further licenses should not be granted until a new Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) is prepared. The government argues that the claim is moot since it is already preparing a new EIS and that it is not ripe since there is no way to determine whether future lease sales will be approved based on the completed EIS. But the court held that the environmental groups are challenging leases that were already granted after the disaster in reliance on the now invalid EIS. The court also rejected the government's attempt to dismiss a claim that BOEMRE failed to insure that there was likely "no jeopardy" to endangered species. However, the court did dismiss one of the group's claims that BOEMRE violated the NEPA by a failure to reinitiate consultation by relevant government agencies in assessing the impact on endangered species because BOEMRE produced evidence that it had done just that.

Last January, the National Commission on the BP Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill [official website] released its full final report [text], tracing the deeper root causes of the spill and recommending steps to avoid future incidents. The report highlights mistakes made by BP, as well as its partners Haliburton and Transocean [corporate websites], as the starting point that allowed the spill to take place, and finishes with recommendations based on those oversights. The report comes as another count against BP's practices leading up to the spill. In December, the US Department of Justice (DOJ) [official website] filed suit [JURIST report] against units of BP and several other companies over the April 2010 disaster. The government's lawsuit is one of hundreds filed against BP and other companies in connection with the oil spill. In August, the US Judicial Panel on Multidistrict Litigation [official website] selected Judge Carl Barbier [FJC profile] to hear [JURIST report] more than 300 such lawsuits.

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