The Obama administration’s efforts to suspend deepwater oil drilling were dealt another setback in court on Thursday when the federal judge who struck down the administration’s six-month moratorium refused to delay the decision’s effects.
The Interior Department petitioned Judge Martin L.C. Feldman of the United States District Court in New Orleans to grant a stay of his decision, which lifted a ban on new drilling projects and on work on the 33 rigs already in place in the Gulf.
But Judge Feldman said he was denying the delay for the same reasons he gave for his June 22 decision: that the moratorium was doing “irreparable harm” to the businesses in the gulf that depend on drilling activity and that the government had not given sufficient basis for the moratorium.
The White House imposed the moratorium in May, about a month after a fatal explosion and fire on April 20 on the Deepwater Horizon rig, which left an undersea well spewing crude oil into the gulf. The moratorium, intended to give time for improvements in rig safety measures, was “blanket, generic, indeed punitive,” the judge ruled.Update: On July 9, a three-judge panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit upheld Judge Feldman's ruling while the government's appeal is pending. The case before the Fifth Circuit is on the fast track for a late August hearing.