Federal Judge Blocks Obama Administration’s Oil Drilling Moratorium

A Federal Judge in Louisiana has told the Obama Administration that it can't ban offshore drilling in the wake of the Deepwater Horizon disaster.

A Federal Judge in Lousiana has struck down the Obama Administration’s effort to bar offshore drilling for six months in the wake of the Deepwater Horizon disaster:

NEW ORLEANS — 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, saying in his ruling the Interior Department assumed that because one rig failed, all companies and rigs doing deepwater drilling pose an imminent danger.

“The Deepwater Horizon oil spill is an unprecedented, sad, ugly and inhuman disaster,” he wrote. “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.”

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

The Interior Department said it needed time to study the risks of deepwater drilling. But the lawsuit filed by Hornbeck Offshore Services of Covington, La., claimed there was no proof the other operations posed a threat.

Company CEO Todd Hornbeck said after the ruling that he is looking forward to getting back to work.

“It’s the right thing for not only the industry but the country,” he said.

The six month moratorium struck me as overkill, especially since there’s no evidence that the disaster we’re dealing with was caused by something common to oil drilling as an industry. Instead, it’s becoming clearer every day that we’re dealing with a series of bad decisions by BP officials on the rig and off that led to the events of April 20th. There’s no reason to believe that every rig in the Gulf of Mexico is similarly afflicted, and no sense in harming the economy of the Gulf Coast even more by shutting down a vital industry.

As for whether or not the Judge is right on the merits, I will have to leave that to someone who is more expert in the relevant law to comment on, but Judge Feldman’s decision seems pretty airtight to me.

Speaking of the decision, here it is:

Hornbeck Offshore Service v. Salazar

FILED UNDER: Environment, Law and the Courts, Oil Spill, US Politics
Doug Mataconis
About Doug Mataconis
Doug holds a B.A. in Political Science from Rutgers University and J.D. from George Mason University School of Law. He joined the staff of OTB in May 2010. Before joining OTB, he wrote at Below The BeltwayThe Liberty Papers, and United Liberty Follow Doug on Twitter | Facebook


  1. grampagravy says:

    Oil rig employees fill out safety inspection forms in pencil, MMS copies over the answers in pen without actually doing an inspection–check.
    5 biggest oil company CEOs tell Congress they haven’t the means to deal with blowouts at 5K feet under water–check.
    All the spill response plans filed by major oil companies are carbon copies of BPs bogus response plan including Gulf of Mexico walruses and dead scientists to contact in emergency–check.
    Oil companies in general have sterling reputations as responsible protectors of the environment–check.
    I’m thinking that the only thing “airtight” here is the seal between this judge’s lips and Big Oil’s a$$.

  2. Marty says:

    Blocked, yes…by a judge that own stock in Transocean and about 4 or 5 other offshore oil & gas drilling related companies. http://news.yahoo.com/s/ynews/20100622/ts_ynews/ynews_ts2771. This one’ll go down on appeal.

  3. Zelsdorf Ragshaft III says:

    Experts on the panel Salazar gathered did not sign off on a moratorium on drilling. That decision was purely political and made by Salazar to further his political beliefs. After all Ken Salazar has blocked any and all efforts to develop oil shale in Colorado said to hold a trillion barrels of oil. These folks are not interested in what is best for the country only in what furthers their agenda. For your lefties ediification. BP was among the largest donors to the Obama campaign. BP got a pass from the Obama adminstration concerning safety issues with the deep horizon well. The Obama administration knew there was a problem with that well prior to the explosion. The rest, they say, is history.

  4. Steve Plunk says:

    The judge probably should have recused himself from the case. That said if his legal reasoning is sound it will not be overturned on appeal. I believe he made the right decision but the appearance of conflict is problematic.

  5. G.A.Phillips says:


    Hell what kind of evidence, laws, or procedures, do you need when you have this ?

    ****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.”****

    ***I’m thinking that the only thing “airtight” here is the seal between this judge’s lips and Big Oil’s a$$.***

    lol, grampa have you ever heard of CRIME INC.?

    I’ll bet that there is blue lipstick all over George’s a$$ and I don’t mean Bush.

  6. john personna says:

    Let me guess, the same people who think Obama should be doing a better job cleaning up the last spill are anxious to get oil companies out there to drill in deep water some more …

  7. Zelsdorf Ragshaft III says:

    They have been deep drilling in the Gulf for how long? How many incidents of this nature have we had? Who failed to follow protocol with regard to using concrete to shore up the well? Who donated lots money to the Obama campaign? Those other wells were inspected by the government and found to be sound. If you have a baseball team that is broken, you do not cancel baseball. One company failed, the other wells have no problem. Thousands of people depend on drilling in the gulf. I just remember Obama saying that prices of enery will necessarily SKYROCKET. Impeach this imposter.

  8. anjin-san says:

    How many incidents of this nature

    Now this is an “incident” in GOPspeak?

  9. […] U.S. District Judge Martin Feldman, a man of whom most Americans have almost certainly never heard, overturned President Obama’s moratorium on drilling in the Gulf. And there’s simply no question whatsoever but that the Leader of the Free World will either […]

  10. […] Obama moratorium was not only overkill, but was a amateurish knee jerk reaction by a President so far over his head that any reaction, […]