U.S. ef­fort to halt off­shore drilling is knocked down by ap­peals court

Austin American-Statesman - - FRIDAY BRIEFING -

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.

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