Bid To Restore Drilling Moratorium Rejected
MARY LOUISE KELLY, Host:
NPR's Kathy Lohr reports from New Orleans.
KATHY LOHR: The arguments were animated as all the judges sought to get their questions answered. Judge Jerry Smith asked Michael Gray, who represented the government, whether the plaintiffs in this case were harmed by the moratorium.
LOUISE KELLY: It is still our position that the plaintiffs have not suffered irreparable harm, at least as far as their declarations do not support a finding of irreparable harm here.
LOUISE KELLY: That's not what I asked you. I asked you whether it's still the secretary's position that these plaintiffs are not harmed by the moratorium.
LOHR: Gray had to admit they were, but said that harm didn't rise to the level that should prevent the moratorium from going into effect. Then the judges asked attorneys for the lead plaintiff, Hornbeck Offshore, whether the explosion in the Gulf justifies any kind of moratorium. Attorney John Cooney finally admitted there might be justification for a targeted suspension but not the kind of blanket ban, he says, the government ordered.
LOUISE KELLY: The problem with a moratorium, which I'm trying to distinguish, is it's a one size fits all mechanism. The industry leader is treated the same way as the industry laggard. They are all frozen into limbo for an extended period of time.
LOHR: Catherine Wannamaker with the Southern Environmental Loss Center supported the drilling ban, which affects 33 deepwater wells.
LOUISE KELLY: We think that a moratorium is a very rational response to a disaster of the magnitude that we are currently experiencing.
LOHR: Wannamaker, who represents a coalition of environmental groups, says she's disappointed in the ruling. She also says it's unclear whether deepwater drilling will resume.
LOUISE KELLY: If they did start drilling in deep water while the moratorium is sort of on hold, we'd be prepared to go back to the court of appeals and revisit this issue.
LOHR: Spokeswoman for Interior Secretary Ken Salazar says he's believes it's not appropriate to drill new deepwater wells until the government can be assured that future drilling is conducted in a safe and environmentally responsible manner. And the secretary reiterated that he will issue a new moratorium, exactly the kind of talk that worries the oil industry.
LOUISE KELLY: We're looking forward to getting back to work.
LOHR: Samuel Giberga is general counsel for Hornbeck Offshore, one of the companies that challenged the moratorium. He says Salazar's statements have created a lot of uncertainty.
LOUISE KELLY: That has the effect of chilling the willingness, the operators, the owners of the oil and gas interests and the drillers, to go out and begin drilling again. And that's really the main issue now.
LOHR: Kathy Lohr, NPR News, New Orleans.
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