Federal judge refuses to delay ruling on Gulf drilling ban
NEW ORLEANS (AP) — A federal judge who overturned a six-month moratorium on deepwater drilling imposed after the Gulf oil spill refused Thursday to put his ruling on hold while the government appeals.
The Justice Department had asked U.S. District Judge Martin Feldman to delay his ruling until the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in New Orleans can review it. Feldman rejected that request Thursday.
On Tuesday, he struck down the Interior Department’s moratorium that halted approval of new permits for deepwater projects and suspended drilling on 33 exploratory wells. Feldman concluded the government simply assumed that because one deepwater rig went up in flames, others were dangerous too.
The moratorium was imposed after the offshore oil rig Deepwater Horizon exploded April 20, killing 11 workers. Oil has been gushing from the blown-out well ever since.
The Justice Department said in court papers that Interior Secretary Ken Salazar has instructed all employees not to enforce the moratorium. Rig operators are getting letters that say suspension notices they received have no legal effect right now.
But the Justice Department argues that delaying Feldman’s ruling would eliminate the risk of another drilling accident while new safety equipment standards and procedures are considered.
Feldman had agreed to hold an emergency hearing by phone Thursday on a motion filed by several oilfield service companies who say the Obama administration is ignoring his ruling.
But the judge informed attorneys only minutes before the call that he would rule without hearing oral arguments. The hearing would not have been open to the public.
Separately, a number of environmental groups asked the court to release additional information about Feldman’s financial interests.
The judge’s financial disclosure report for 2008, the most recent available, shows holdings in at least eight petroleum companies or funds that invest in them, including Transocean Ltd., which owned the Deepwater Horizon. The report shows most of his holdings were valued at less than $15,000; it did not provide specific amounts.
The environmental groups want to know whether Feldman has a financial interest that could be substantially affected by the outcome of the proceeding. If so, he could be forced to disqualify himself from the case.
Feldman said in a court filing Thursday that his most recent financial disclosure report will be released by the federal courts’ administrative office ‘‘as soon as their security protocol on the release of (the report) has been satisfied.’’
Gov. Bobby Jindal, at a rally against the moratorium in Houma, La., on Thursday, read from Feldman’s ruling and called it a ‘‘rare instance’’ of common sense from a federal official.
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