Federal judge blocks deepwater drilling ban in Gulf

Federal judge blocks deepwater drilling ban in Gulf

Photo source or description

[JURIST] A judge for the US District Court for the Eastern District of Louisiana [official website] on Tuesday ordered a preliminary injunction [opinion, PDF] against a six-month moratorium on deepwater drilling [JURIST report] issued last month by the Obama administration in response to the BP Deepwater Horizon oil spill [BBC backgrounder; JURIST news archive]. The suit was filed by small oil companies in Louisiana affected by the ban, claiming that the imposition of a general moratorium on deepwater drilling in the Gulf of Mexico was contrary to federal law. Judge Martin Feldman held that the injunction was necessary because the ban caused irreparable harm to both the plaintiffs and the public, and the Obama administration considered no alternatives when enacting the blanket moratorium. Feldman agreed with the plaintiffs' assertion that the ban was arbitrary and capricious stating:

The Deepwater Horizon oil spill is an unprecedented, sad, ugly and inhuman disaster. What seems clear is that the federal government has been pressed by what happened on the Deepwater Horizon into an otherwise sweeping confirmation that all Gulf deepwater drilling activities put us all in a universal threat of irreparable harm. While the implementation of regulations and a new culture of safety are supportable by the [administration's] Report and the documents presented, the blanket moratorium, with no parameters, seems to assume that because one rig failed and although no one yet fully knows why, all companies and rigs drilling new wells over 500 feet also universally present an imminent danger.

The court went on to say that the administration's ban "trivializes" the business and jobs that would be affected by the mandate. The administration immediately responded to the injunction, stating that the federal government will appeal [NBC report] the court's ruling.

Last week, US President Barack Obama [official website] announced the government's latest plan of action for tackling the oil spill, which includes a $20 billion compensation fund [JURIST reports] subsidized by BP. The newly-established escrow fund [government backgrounder] will be used to indemnify the workers and business owners harmed as a result of the oil spill. The announcement also included a long-term restoration plan and prevention of future disasters [JURIST report] through stronger regulation. Additionally last week, Obama announced the appointment of Micheal Bromwich [press release], a former federal prosecutor and Inspector General for the Justice Department, as head of the Minerals Management Service (MMS) [official website], which has been plagued with corruption and notorious for its cozy relationship with oil companies. 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 have leaked already from the rig's broken pipe and has now surpassed the Exxon Valdez [JURIST news archive] as the worst oil spill in US history. The White House is keeping a daily chronology of events [text].