Federal Judge Again Rules against Obama on Drilling Moratorium

WASHINGTON (Dow Jones Newswires), Sep. 1, 2010

The federal judge who struck down the Obama administration's initial six-month moratorium on deepwater oil drilling on Wednesday dealt the government another blow.

U.S. District Court Judge Martin Feldman denied the government's request to throw out a suit challenging the drilling halt that had been filed by offshore oil service companies. Justice Department lawyers had argued the lawsuit was moot because the Interior Department imposed a new, temporary drilling ban on July 12, replacing a May 28 order that Judge Feldman had struck down in June.

But Judge Feldman ruled that Interior Secretary Ken Salazar's second moratorium order "is substantially the same as the first one" and "applies to the exact same rigs, to the exact same deepwater drilling, for the exact same time period," the judge said in his ruling.

Judge Feldman also noted that in crafting the second moratorium, Mr. Salazar appeared to have relied heavily on documents and data that he had at the time of the first moratorium order.

"Nearly every statement in the July 12 decision memorandum is anticipated by documents in the May 28 record, or by documents that were otherwise available to the Secretary before May 28," the judge said.

(This story and related background material will be available on The Wall Street Journal Web site, WSJ.com.)

Spokespersons for the Interior Department and Hornbeck Offshore Services (HOS)--the leading plaintiff in the case--didn't immediately respond to requests for comment.

The Obama administration has said the temporary ban on drilling in waters deeper than 500 feet is necessary to allow the government and industry to improve safety and response procedures.

The administration is fighting in court to maintain a moratorium on oil drilling in deepwater until Nov. 30, but has said it will consider scaling back or lifting the ban earlier, based on what it learns in the coming months about improvements in the industry's safety practices.

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