Administration Tries Again for Gulf Drilling Moratorium

Secretary Salazar issues new rule, hoping to persuade the judge

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The Obama administration, having been thwarted in its attempts to declare a six-month moratorium on new deepwater wells in the Gulf of Mexico yesterday issued a new moratorium order, citing new information on the causes of the recent well blowout and other matters. According to a question-and-answer news release from the department:

"What are the differences between the May 28 deepwater drilling moratorium and the new deepwater drilling suspension?

"Like the deepwater drilling moratorium lifted by the District Court on June 22, the deepwater drilling suspensions ordered today apply to most deepwater drilling activities and could last through November 30. The suspensions ordered today, however, are the product of a new decision by the Secretary and new evidence regarding safety concerns, blowout containment shortcomings within the industry, and spill response capabilities that are strained by the BP oil spill.

"Moreover, the new decision by the Secretary establishes a process through which BOEM will gather and analyze new information from the public, experts, stakeholders, and the industry on safety and response issues, which could potentially provide the basis for identifying conditions for resuming certain deepwater drilling activities. In addition, the May 28 moratorium proscribed drilling based on specific water depths; the new decision does not suspend activities based on water depth, but on the basis of the drilling configurations and technologies."

The whole release, along with analysis and explanation by The Los Angeles Times, is here.

We fully expect industry to challenge this new moratorium before the same judge that blocked the previous attempt. Whether the new moratorium will persuade the judge remains to be seen. No matter what he does, his decision is almost certain to be appealed to the circuit court of appeals, which sustained the judge’s previous blocking of the moratorium. Their argument is that there’s no imminent threat of harm. But if there’s no imminent threat of harm, why not go along with the moratorium? This story’s far from over.

Tom Turner literally wrote the books about Earthjustice during his more-than-25 years with the organization. A lifelong resident of Berkeley, CA, he is most passionate about Earthjustice's maiden issue: wilderness preservation.