The Obama administration late Friday appealed a judge’s orders directing the Interior Department to act on several Gulf of Mexico deepwater drilling permits.
The appeal is the latest salvo in the ongoing fight over the speed with which Interior is – or isn’t – letting oil drillers get back to work after last year’s BP oil spill.
Gulf state lawmakers and the oil industry have accused the department of enacting a “de facto” moratorium against new drilling, while Interior says it needs to ensure safety and environmental protections are in place.
Friday’s appeal challenges rulings by Judge Martin Feldman of the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Louisiana, who on Feb. 17 gave Interior 30 days to make a verdict on five pending deepwater drilling permits applications. He later added two additional permits to that order.
Interior Secretary Ken Salazar had hinted the appeal was coming at a Senate hearing Wednesday.
“The judge in this particular case in my view is wrong,” Salazar said. “And we will argue the case because I don’t believe that the court has the jurisdiction to basically tell the Department of Interior what my administrative responsibilities are.”
He added, “the policy we have in mind is unmistakingly clear: We are moving forward with the development of oil and gas” production.”
Earlier in February, the judge held Interior in contempt, citing “dismissive conduct” by blocking offshore drilling during last year’s spill.
The delay in issuing permits since last year’s Gulf of Mexico oil spill is “increasingly inexcusable,” Feldman wrote.
Interior on Monday announced the approval of the first deepwater drilling permit held up since last year’s spill. The permit, issued to Noble Energy for a well partially owned by BP, was not one of those that Feldman’s ruling addressed.