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Gulf oil spill: Judge slams Obama's drilling moratorium, blocks it

The judge said the federal report that led to the drilling moratorium didn't 'explicitly justify' a ban. Some independent engineers who reviewed the report agree. The administration will appeal.

By Staff writer / June 22, 2010

The Gunnison truss spar, located in the Gulf of Mexico, is one of the drilling operations affected by the Obama administration's deep-water drilling moratorium, which took effect in the wake of the Gulf oil spill.



The US District Court in New Orleans blocked the Obama administration’s six-month moratorium on deep-water drilling Tuesday, adding to doubts about the federal report that recommended the ban.

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The moratorium took effect May 27 after an Interior Department report called for a stoppage so that safety protocols could be reviewed and the cause of the Deepwater Horizon blowout and subsequent Gulf oil spill could be determined.

But in his ruling Monday, US District Court Judge Martin Feldman wrote that the report findings did not “explicitly justify the moratorium.” He added: “[the report] does not discuss any irreparable harm that would warrant a suspension of operations, it does not explain how long it would take to implement the recommended safety measures.”

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This comes as a panel of independent engineering experts who reviewed the report claim that they did not give their blessings to the moratorium. Instead, that recommendation was added after their final review, they say.

“This is not an engineering problem, it’s a management problem, and it’s BP’s management that screwed up,” says Bruce Johnson, a professor emeritus of oceanic engineering at the Naval Academy in Annapolis, Md. The moratorium “penalizes the whole industry for the mistakes of” BP management, he adds.

Obama vs. Jindal?

The White House, however, said it would appeal the decision immediately.

The legal challenge against the moratorium was brought by 12 offshore oil operators and suppliers led by Hornbeck Offshore Services of Covington, La. The companies argued that the ban is costing the local petroleum industry between $165 million and $330 million each month in lost revenue.

Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal threw his weight behind the challenge, too, insisting that the moratorium would lead to at least 11,000 job losses in the state. This “helped level the playing field” against the Obama administration, says Richard Frank, executive director of the UC Berkeley Law School's Center for Law, Energy and the Environment.