NEW ORLEANS – A federal court judge has blocked President Barack Obama’s six-month moratorium on deep water oil drilling in the Gulf of Mexico. The White House, which had hoped the ban would provide time to ensure other wells are operating safely, immediately said it would appeal.
The ruling comes in a lawsuit filed by drilling companies to reverse the ban imposed by the Department of Interior, which halted the approval of any new permits for deepwater drilling and suspended drilling at 33 exploratory wells in the Gulf.
A federal judge in Louisiana granted the drillers’ request for a preliminary restraining order that would prevent the ban from taking effect until a trial is held. The judge said the lengthy ban was “invalid” and could not be justified, as the negative impact on local businesses was simply too great.
“An invalid agency decision to suspend drilling of wells in the depths over 500ft simply cannot justify the immeasurable effect on the plaintiffs, the local economy, the Gulf region and the critical present-day aspect of the availability of domestic energy in this country,” judge Martin Feldman said.
In issuing the ruling, Feldman said, “the court is unable to divine or fathom a relationship between the findings (of the government) and the immense scope of the moratorium. The plaintiffs assert that they have suffered and will continue to suffer irreparable harm as a result of the moratorium. The court agrees.”
Brian Collins, an attorney for the Justice Department, insisted Monday that the suspension is necessary while officials conduct a safety review. But a group of companies that provides boats and equipment to the offshore drilling industry filed a lawsuit claiming the government has no evidence that existing operations pose a threat to the Gulf of Mexico and asked the court to declare the moratorium invalid and unenforceable.