Gulf Drilling Moratorium Lifted by Court Order

Conservation groups will join government in trying to get it reinstated

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Yesterday a federal district judge granted a request by oil industry groups and blocked a six month moratorium on new offshore oil drilling projects in the Gulf of Mexico put in place by the Obama administration. The judge ruled that the administration moved too fast and overreacted when it decided to stop deep offshore oil drilling in the Gulf of Mexico. The administration enacted the moratorium in response to the explosion and fire that took the lives of 11 men and caused the worst American environmental disaster in modern times. A government review after the explosion and fire on the Deepwater Horizon showed that additional safeguards are necessary before more deepwater drilling is allowed. Even more are virtually certain to be required after completion of other ongoing investigations.

The six month moratorium only applies to 33 offshore drilling operations drilling in greater than 500 feet of water. Thousands of other offshore Gulf oil wells continue to pump oil and are not affected by the moratorium. The industry group that challenged the moratorium told the judge that it would suffer grievous economic losses while its CEO told investors that most of its vessels were hard at work in the cleanup and customer charters.

Earthjustice worked with the Southern Environmental Law Center to intervene in the case to make sure the best defense of the moratorium would be presented.

The conservation groups are in a good position to point out the weaknesses in the government’s lax regulation of offshore drilling along with the numerous illegal loopholes and waivers that need to be eliminated.

The federal government immediately said it would file an appeal to restore the moratorium, and we will do so as well in order to get the deepwater drilling moratorium reinstated.

Earthjustice attorney David Guest reacted to the ruling saying, "If a 747 jetliner had a failure and crashed, it would be reasonable for the government to ground the fleet for six months or however long it took to determine the cause in order to protect lives. I don’t know why this is any different."

John was Earthjustice’s Media Director and chief press wrangler from 2001 until 2013. He came to Earthjustice in 2001 to defend freshwaters and public land—and salmon.