Gulf oil spill: Obama administration argues for drilling moratorium

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The Obama administration will take its case for a moratorium on deep-water drilling in the Gulf of Mexico to a federal appellate court, which is holding an unusual hearing before a panel of three judges Thursday.

In a filing on behalf of the Interior Department on Tuesday, Solicitor Hilary C. Tompkins argued that a Louisiana federal district court that struck down the drilling ban last month ‘misperceived Interior’s authority, the rationale for the suspensions and the relative harms present in the gulf.’

Tompkins said the BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico created conditions that federal regulators must respond to under discretionary authority based on the Outer Continental Shelf Lands Act:

Because this deep-water spill has been impossible to fully contain, Interior had to take immediate action to minimize the risk of another spill, especially while efforts to contain and clean up this one are ongoing. The stakes are even higher now that it is hurricane season. The suspension orders give Interior time to further implement 22 already identified new safety measures and to develop others as it gathers more information. Therefore, that decision was a rational exercise, under emergency circumstances, of Interior’s substantial discretionary authority under the Outer Continental Shelf Lands Act and its own regulations for suspending lease operations.


The filing supports a motion by the administration to stay the district court’s injunction against the drilling moratorium.

The administration had halted deep-water exploratory drilling in May, to give a presidential panel time to study safety measures to prevent a similar spill. The six-month moratorium halted work on 33 exploratory wells in the Gulf of Mexico.

U.S. District Judge Martin Feldman blocked the moratorium, agreeing with arguments presented by several companies involved in offshore drilling. He later ruled against the administration’s motion to stay his action. Tuesday’s filing comes in response to the latter decision. It was filed in the U.S. 5th Circuit Court of Appeals, based in Louisiana. The hearing takes place Thursday at 3 p.m. Central time.

-- Geoff Mohan