The Interior Department has issued a new offshore drilling moratorium that is different, but not very different, from the one blocked recently by a New Orleans federal judge.
The six-month moratorium announced in May in the wake of the Gulf of Mexico oil spill barred drilling in waters more than 500 feet deep. The moratorium announced Monday doesn’t mention water depths, but it bars drilling by the types of rigs and drilling technology typically used in those waters.
A senior Interior Department official said none of the 33 rigs whose activity was interrupted in May would be able to resume the exploration drilling activity they were involved in then.
The Justice Department said that the new order supersedes the earlier one and renders the legal challenge to the moratorium moot. That challenge had been mounted by Hornbeck Offshore Services and other drilling firms, which had won an injunction from a district court judge. The Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals denied the Interior Department's motion to stay the preliminary injunction pending appeal.
The appellate court set oral arguments for the week of Aug. 30. But the Justice Department said it would now ask the courts to vacate the injunction and dismiss the Hornbeck case “because the challenged May 28 decision is no longer operative and, thus, does not impact the plaintiffs.”