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Judge blocks Gulf drilling moratorium

June 22, 2010 12:00:00 AM PDT
A federal judge in New Orleans has blocked a six-month moratorium on new deepwater drilling projects that was imposed in response to the massive Gulf oil spill. U.S. District Judge Martin Feldman in New Orleans was asked by several companies that ferry people and supplies and provide other services to offshore drilling rigs to overturn the moratorium.

Feldman said in his ruling that the Interior Department failed to provide adequate reasoning for the moratorium. He says it seems to assume that because one rig failed, all companies and rigs doing deepwater drilling pose an imminent danger.

"An invalid agency decision to suspend drilling of wells in depths of over 500 feet simply cannot justify the immeasurable effect on the plaintiffs, the local economy, the Gulf region, and the critical present-day aspect of the availability of domestic energy in this country," Feldman wrote.

The moratorium was imposed after the April 20 explosion on the Deepwater Horizon drilling rig that killed 11 workers and blew out the well that has spewed millions of gallons of oil into the Gulf.

The Interior Department said it imposed the moratorium so it could study the risks of deepwater drilling. But the lawsuit filed by Hornbeck Offshore Services of Covington, La., claimed there was no proof the other operations posed a threat.

The moratorium was declared May 6 and originally was to last only through the month. President Obama announced May 27 that he was extending it for six months.

The Deepwater Horizon rig is owned by Transocean, which was run by British oil company BP PLC.

Meanwhile, Kenneth Feinberg, who has been tapped by the White House to run the fund set up to help people harmed by the spill, said many people are in desperate financial straits and need immediate relief.

"We want to get these claims out quicker," he said. "We want to get these claims out with more transparency."

Latest Developments:

  • Government and industry leaders are exploring a new way to capture oil gushing from the blown-out well at the bottom of the Gulf of Mexico.
  • Coast Guard Adm. Thad Allen said Tuesday they're looking into whether pipelines could be extended from the leaking well to several production platforms elsewhere in the Gulf where the flow could be captured or sent down to a different reservoir.
  • BP said it has spent $2 billion fighting the spill for the last two months and compensating victims, with no end in sight. It's likely to be at least August before crews finish two relief wells that are the best chance of stopping the flow of oil. Scientists estimate the blown-out well has gushed anywhere from 68 million to 126 millions gallons of oil into the Gulf.
  • Shares of the British oil giant plummeted to their lowest level in 13 years Tuesday as chief executive Tony Hayward started handing over control of the cleanup to the company's managing director. Stocks in BP traded as low as $4.95 (333 pence) in London, the weakest since February 1997.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.


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