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Judge blocks Gulf offshore drilling moratorium

Oklahoman Modified: June 22, 2010 at 2:11 pm •  Published: June 22, 2010
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NEW ORLEANS (AP) — A federal judge struck down the Obama administration's six-month ban on deepwater oil drilling in the Gulf of Mexico on Tuesday, saying the government rashly concluded that because one rig failed, the others are in immediate danger, too.

The White House promised an immediate appeal. The Interior Department had halted approval of any new permits for deepwater drilling and suspended drilling of 33 exploratory wells in the Gulf.

Press Secretary Robert Gibbs said President Barack Obama believes strongly that drilling at such depths does not make sense and puts the safety of workers "at a danger that the president does not believe we can afford."

Several companies that ferry people and supplies and provide other services to offshore drilling rigs asked U.S. District Judge Martin Feldman in New Orleans to overturn the moratorium.

They argued it was arbitrarily imposed after the April 20 explosion on the Deepwater Horizon drilling rig that killed 11 workers and blew out the well 5,000 feet underwater. It has spewed anywhere from 67 million to 127 million gallons of oil into the Gulf.

Feldman sided with the companies.

"What seems clear is that the federal government has been pressed by what happened on the Deepwater Horizon into an otherwise sweeping confirmation that all Gulf deepwater drilling activities put us all in a universal threat of irreparable harm," he wrote.

His ruling prohibits federal officials from enforcing the moratorium until a trial is held. He did not set a date.

The lawsuit was filed by Hornbeck Offshore Services of Covington, La., and company CEO Todd Hornbeck said after the ruling he is looking forward to getting back to work.

"It's the right thing for not only the industry but the country," he said.

Earlier in the day, executives at a major oil conference in London warned the moratorium would cripple world energy supplies. Steven Newman, president and CEO of Transocean Ltd., owner of the rig that exploded, called it an unnecessary overreaction.

"There are things the administration could implement today that would allow the industry to go back to work tomorrow without an arbitrary six-month time limit," Newman told reporters on the sidelines of the conference.

Tony Hayward, CEO of British oil company BP PLC, which was leasing the rig, skipped the event after coming under fire for attending a yacht race in England on Saturday rather than dealing with the spill.

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