U.S. effort to halt offshore drilling is knocked down by appeals court
NEW ORLEANS — A federal appeals court rejected the federal government’s attempt to restore an offshore deepwater drilling moratorium, opening the door to resumed drilling in the Gulf while the legal fight continues.
Thursday’s ruling is not the final word on the Obama administration’s fight to suspend new drilling projects so it can study the risks revealed by the disastrous BP oil spill.
The same appeals court is expected to hear arguments on the merits of the moratorium case in late August or early September.
Although it’s possible that 33 exploratory wells suspended by the moratorium could resume drilling, companies might not bother with the expense while the ultimate future of the projects hangs in the balance.
Catherine Wannamaker, a lawyer for several environmental groups that support the freese, said she was disappointed by the ruling but confident that the administration ultimately will win its appeal.
The CEO of one of the companies that sued to stop the moratorium, Covington-based Hornbeck Offshore Services, said he didn’t know if any of the companies involved planned to resume drilling.
“We need to get back to work,” Todd Hornbeck said of his company, which provides vessels that serve the offshore industry. “We can’t work without any drilling units working.”
The moratorium was first rejected June 22 by U.S. District Judge Martin Feldman. The Interior Department appealed, asking the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals to let the temporary ban stand until it ruled on the merits of the case. A three-judge panel rejected the government’s arguments less than two hours after a hearing on Thursday afternoon.
Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal said he was pleased by the ruling but remains concerned about the de facto moratorium that is keeping drilling from resuming and the threat of a second moratorium from Interior Secretary Ken Salazar.
“The federal government not being able to do its job is not a reason for thousands of Louisianians to lose their jobs,” Jindal said.