A federal judge in New Orleans placed an injunction yesterday against the six-month moratorium on exploratory offshore drilling in the Gulf of Mexico. In response to the unprecedented devastation wreaked upon the Gulf by the BP oil spill, President Obama ordered the temporary ban on new drilling projects in waters over 500 feet deep. A coalition of Gulf region businesses filed an injunction against the ban, claiming that damage to the regional economy would be detrimental. U.S. District Court Judge Martin L.C. Feldman agreed.
In his 22-page written opinion, Judge Feldman wrote that the Obama administration did not adequately explain the need for “a blanket, generic, indeed punitive, moratorium” on deepwater offshore drilling, reports the New York Times. He also commented that Obama seemed to think that just because one oil rig failed, “all companies and rigs drilling new wells over 500 feet also universally present an imminent danger,” despite the fact that no one fully knows why the Deepwater Horizon rig exploded and sank.
The moratorium put in place by President Obama does not affect any oil well already in production, and would in reality only halt 33 exploratory projects underway, as well as prevent new ones from being started. The other thousands of oil rigs at work in the Gulf of Mexico would remain unfettered.
Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar vowed to appeal Judge Feldman’s decision, stating that within days his agency would have a new version of the moratorium ready — complete with better explanation as to why the ban is necessary. The White House is standing by its decision, asserting that it makes perfect sense to halt new drilling until the reasons why the BP well failed (and is still failing to the tune of up to 100,000 barrels per day) and to not do so would, in fact, be a clear and present danger to the environmentally devastated Gulf of Mexico.
The injunction filed by oil-related businesses does have some considerable support, most notably among conservative politicians and the state of Louisiana, which filed a brief in support of the lawsuit, stating that the ban would cause irreparable harm to the economy.
Judge Feldman echoed that opinion, noting that oil drilling was “elemental to gulf communities,” adding that “the effect on employment, jobs, loss of domestic energy supplies caused by the moratorium as the plaintiffs (and other suppliers, and the rigs themselves) lose business, and the movement of the rigs to other sites around the world will clearly ripple throughout the economy in this region.”
Environmentalists and other opponents of the ruling disagree with equal fervor. They echo the White House’s opinion that a ban is the only solution until the investigation into the BP disaster is complete. None of the major oil companies operating wells in the gulf have shown a disaster response plan any better than BP’s plan, which has epically failed. Furthermore, opponents point to the fact that the vast majority of wells are still producing and continue unaffected.
Also, serious questions have been raised about Judge Feldman’s partiality in the case in reference to a financial disclosure letter he released in May 2009, which showed that until as recently as 2008, he owned stock in several oil-related firms, including Transocean, operator of the Deepwater Horizon rig.
The moratorium, and the entire BP oil spill fiasco, has brought to the forefront the most pressing question facing American society: Which takes precedence…bank accounts or environment?