NEW ORLEANS (CN) – A federal judge Tuesday gave the U.S. government 30 days to act on six drilling applications that have been pending ever since an explosion aboard the Deepwater Horizon drilling rig last year killed 11 and unleashed a massive oil spill into the Gulf of Mexico.
U.S. District Judge Martin Feldman ruled in favor of Ensco Offshore Drilling, saying Ensco is entitled to “predictability in the very least in the deepwater drilling permit scheme.”
Ensco is the company leading the lawsuit against the government. An original lawsuit was filed last May after the Interior Department issued a moratorium on all offshore drilling in water deeper than 500 feet.
After other drilling companies joined the Ensco suit in June, Judge Feldman overruled the moratorium, saying it was overly broad and punitive. Interior Department Secretary Kenneth Salazar issued a second moratorium in July, but removed it by October before Feldman had a chance to rule on the resulting second lawsuit.
In his opinion issued Tuesday, the judge said the Interior Department must either accept or deny applications to drill within 30 days.
“The government has presented no credible assurances that permitting process will return to one marked by predictability and certainty,” Feldman wrote. “Processing a scant few applications is at best a tactical ploy in a real world setting.”
This ruling is essentially a reiteration of the judge’s February ruling on the same issue in which he held tha/t either a favorable or unfavorable decision by the Department of Interior would be fine as long as a decision were made.
“By securing a decision, any decision, by the government on its contractors’ permit applications within a reasonable time, Ensco may proceed in its business activities with certainty and clarity,” the ruling states.
“That Ensco has suffered an injury in fact cannot be rationally disputed here: Ensco has received reduced rates from its customers, has received a force majeure notice from one customer whose permit application is at issue in count IV, and has sent a Gulf of Mexico rig several thousands miles to French Guiana,” Feldman wrote.
“Although it is obvious Ensco would prefer to have the permit applications underlying its claim granted, Ensco more broadly seeks predictability in the deepwater drilling permit scheme for the Gulf of Mexico, which would be gained by a favorable or unfavorable decision on the pending permit applications,” according to the ruling. “By securing a decision, any decision, by the government on its contractors’ permit applications within a reasonable time, Ensco may proceed in its business activities with certainty and clarity.”