WASHINGTON – WASHINGTON (AP) — The Justice Department on Friday urged a federal appeals court to delay a judge's ruling overturning a drilling moratorium in the Gulf.
In court papers, the Obama administration said the suspensions in deepwater drilling are crucially important to protect human health and the environment from another disaster.
At the same time, the federal government's lawyers argued that the moratorium targets only a small number of deepwater operations that present safety concerns, affecting less than 1 percent of the existing structures in the Gulf dedicated to oil exploration and production.
The companies that succeeded in blocking the moratorium "exaggerate by contending that the 'viability of the entire Gulf of Mexico deepwater industry' turns on six months' worth of continued operations at a small fraction of nearly 7,000 active leases," the government said.
The Justice Department said that the lower court judge, U.S. District Judge Martin Feldman, committed legal error and abused his discretion by blocking the Obama administration moratorium.
"The public's interest weighs heavily in favor of making sure that another comparable tragedy does not occur," the Justice Department told the appeals court.
Delaying Feldman's order while the U.S. Interior Department appeals it would "directly serve" that public interest, the department added.
The government says that by assessing the safety and regulation of deepwater drilling in the Gulf of Mexico over the next six months, the Interior Department is engaging in a deliberate and considered effort to protect the economic, social, and ecological health by reducing the risk of another disaster like the Deepwater Horizon.
The potential economic impacts to the Gulf's drilling industry and the businesses that support it "are valid causes for concern," the administration acknowledged to the appeals court.
But the administration added that the concerns of the companies that succeeded in freezing the moratorium "appear limited to the next financial quarter."
"Interior takes an appropriately long view," the government added.
In its appeals court filing, the Justice Department tried to show that the companies challenging the moratorium were not going to suffer irreparable harm if the moratorium went into effect.
In fact, said the federal government, the lead company in the case told investors that only 21 of its 55-vessel fleet was supporting deepwater drilling operations in the Gulf.
In contrast, said the government, "a second deepwater spill could overwhelm response efforts and dramatically set back recovery."
"The risk that the district court's order poses to the American people and their coastal lands and waters strongly counsels that this court grant Interior's requested stay," the Justice Department told the appeals court.