Offshore drilling moratorium goes bust, or does it?

A Louisiana federal court rejects Obama's six-month ban on deep-water drilling, but the Administration isn't backing down.

As the Gulf oil spew reached its 64th day yesterday, a federal judge rejected the six-month ban on offshore deep-water drilling in a New Orleans court.

Impacting 33 oil rigs in the Gulf of Mexico, the moratorium halted drilling on floating rigs in more than 500 feet of water. It also prevented the Minerals Management Service (just renamed the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, Regulation, and Enforcement) from issuing permits for new projects.

While the region's fishing and tourism industries are reeling as a consequence of the spill, the temporary ban might affect an estimated 150,000 oil-related jobs.

Judge Martin Feldman said in the ruling:

If some drilling equipment parts are flawed, is it rational to say all are? Are all airplanes a danger because one was? All oil tankers like Exxon Valdez? All trains? All mines? That sort of thinking seems heavy-handed, and rather overbearing.

Good point, but the April incident and its ongoing aftermath have spotlighted problems within the industry and its regulators. Still uncertain are the extents of the oil industry's negligence, MMS's corruption, the accident's long-term ecological and economic impacts, and an answer as to how to finally stop the well from gushing crude at 5,000 feet below the ocean's surface.

White House Spokesperson Robert Gibbs said in press briefing that it wouldn't make any sense to keep drilling at great depths before knowing what happened aboard Transocean's Deepwater Horizon.

It's a case of calculating relative risk, with the stakes being jobs in the economically struggling Gulf region, and well, the Gulf itself. But however you feel about the court decision, the ultimate influence it will have on deep-water drilling's near future might be small. Forbes.com refers to it as just "a moral victory."

The White House intends to appeal the ruling, a process that could likely delay the projects by at least 6 months, the duration of the current moratorium. Even if the appeals process was expedited, the Department of Interior announced last night that it will be issuing another moratorium shortly.

DOI Secretary Ken Salazar in a statement:

We see clear evidence every day, as oil spills from BP's well, of the need for a pause on deepwater drilling. That evidence mounts as BP continues to be unable to stop its blowout, notwithstanding the huge efforts and help from the federal scientific team and most major oil companies operating in the Gulf of Mexico. The evidence also continues to mount that industry needs to raise the bar on blowout prevention, containment, and response planning before deepwater drilling should continue.

Based on this ever-growing evidence, I will issue a new order in the coming days that eliminates any doubt that a moratorium is needed, appropriate, and within our authorities.


Image: NASA

This post was originally published on Smartplanet.com

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