NEW ORLEANS (CN) – The White House on Wednesday appealed a federal judge’s order that blocked its 6-month moratorium on offshore drilling in the Gulf of Mexico, and the oil drilling support companies that won the injunction asked for a hearing as soon as possible. The Secretary of the Interior claims that the 6-month moratorium affected only 33 active deepwater oil wells in the Gulf of Mexico, and the danger of harm from another oil spill far outweighs the interests of those 33 drilling sites.
The Obama administration asked U.S. District Judge Martin Feldman to stay the injunction he issued Tuesday, pending the outcome of the appeal to the 5th Circuit.
The “suspensions were issued to prevent the risk of more loss of life and long-term environmental and economic devastation like that arising from the Deepwater Horizon accident,” according to the government’s 12-page memorandum for an emergency stay.
“In contrast, plaintiffs [oil-drilling support service companies] have demonstrated a risk of short-term economic harm. Finally, the public interest is overwhelmingly served by the limited 6-month suspensions because the time is needed to implement necessary safety measures to increase the margin of safety in deepwater drilling. The court should therefore stay its injunction pending appellate review.”
The expedited appeal came after Judge Feldman issued a 22-page ruling that called the moratorium arbitrary and overly broad, and economically harmful. Judge Feldman ruled that “the blanket moratorium, with no parameters, seems to assume that because one rig failed and although no one yet fully knows why, all companies and rigs drilling new wells over 500 feet also universally present an imminent danger.”
The original plaintiff that challenged the moratorium, Hornbeck Offshore Services, was quickly joined by other drilling service firms.
Hornbeck followed the Obama administration’s motion on Wednesday with its own request for emergency relief, complaining that the Interior Secretary “continue(s) to enforce the moratorium … in direct violation of the court’s preliminary injunction order dated June 22, 2010 … which immediately prohibited Defendants from enforcing the moratorium.”
Hornbeck asked for an emergency hearing on its motion to enforce the preliminary injunction “at the earliest available time.”
Some major oil companies, including Royal Dutch Shell, have said they will await outcome of the appeals, which could take weeks or months, before they resume operations.
Professor David Uhlmann of the University of Michigan Law School, a former chief of the Justice Department’s criminal section, said the administration probably would win a stay, either from Judge Feldman or the 5th Circuit.
“Given the enormity of the stakes involved, there’s a good chance that they will stay the injunction even if the federal district court judge refused to do so,” Uhlmann said.
A hearing on the plaintiffs’ motion to enforce the preliminary injunction has been set for July 28.