Federal judge blocks Obama's six-month moratorium on offshore drilling

A tough call, actually. Thousands of jobs depend on continued drilling, but given MMS’s horrible track record of oversight, who knows how many other companies might have cut corners on their rigs’ safety mechanisms and are now risking a second oil apocalypse? Said the judge, a Reagan appointee, in criticizing the blanket moratorium, “If some drilling equipment parts are flawed, is it rational to say all are? Are all airplanes a danger because one was?” The answer: It depends. If the threat is big enough, then … yeah, sometimes blanket solutions are the answer.

Is the threat here big enough, though? Let’s ask the experts. From the court’s opinion:

Much to the government’s discomfort and this Court’s uneasiness, the [government’s] Summary also states that “the recommendations contained in this report have been peer-reviewed by seven experts identified by the National Academy of Engineering.” As the plaintiffs, and the experts themselves, pointedly observe, this statement was misleading. The experts charge it was a “misrepresentation.” It was factually incorrect. Although the experts agreed with the safety recommendations contained in the body of the main Report, five of the National Academy experts and three of the other experts have publicly stated that they “do not agree with the six month blanket moratorium” on floating drilling.

Long story short: If the feds want a blanket moratorium, they need to explain in exquisite detail why, in light of the economic hardship that would result, such a draconian step is necessary. Instead, they did pretty much the opposite of that. Your words of the day are “arbitrary and capricious”:

After reviewing the Secretary’s Report, the Moratorium Memorandum, and the Notice to Lessees, the Court is unable to divine or fathom a relationship between the findings and the immense scope of the moratorium. The Report, invoked by the Secretary, describes the offshore oil industry in the Gulf and offers many compelling recommendations to improve safety. But it offers no time line for implementation, though many of the proposed changes are represented to be implemented immediately. The Report patently lacks any analysis of the asserted fear of threat of irreparable injury or safety hazards posed by the thirty-three permitted rigs also reached by the moratorium. It is incident specific and driven: Deepwater Horizon and BP only. None others…

The Deepwater Horizon oil spill is an unprecedented, sad, ugly and inhuman disaster. What seems clear is that the federal government has been pressed by what happened on the Deepwater Horizon into an otherwise sweeping confirmation that all Gulf deepwater drilling activities put us all in a universal threat of irreparable harm. While the implementation of regulations and a new culture of safety are supportable by the Report and the documents presented, the blanket moratorium, with no parameters, seems to assume that because one rig failed and although no one yet fully knows why, all companies and rigs drilling new wells over 500 feet also universally present an imminent danger.

The White House has already said it plans to appeal, but 12 of the 16 judges on the Fifth Circuit are Republican appointees so its prospects for victory are dim. Exit question: Time for a patented Obama/Holder “negotiation” with the oil industry asking them to “voluntarily” cease drilling for a few months while MMS checks everything out?

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