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Deep-Water Drilling Ban May End ‘Soon,’ U.S. Says

Interior Secretary Ken Salazar
Ken Salazar, U.S. interior secretary. Photographer: Brendan Hoffman/Bloomberg

U.S. Interior Secretary Kenneth Salazar may lift the federal ban on deep-water oil drilling “soon,” now that the measure has met some of its goals, the government said in court papers.

Salazar imposed new rules on offshore drilling in waters deeper than 500 feet on July 12, after a New Orleans judge found an earlier moratorium too broad. The rules set multiple milestones to be reached before drilling may resume, said attorney Ignacia S. Moreno, in a court filing last night.

“Several of these milestones have been met or are likely to be reached in the coming days,” Moreno said in a request to delay a hearing in a lawsuit challenging the ban. “The secretary is likely to take action soon on whether and how he will lift the current deepwater drilling suspension.”

President Barack Obama imposed the first six-month moratorium on deep-water drilling on May 28 in reaction to the BP Plc Gulf of Mexico oil spill, the worst in U.S. history. U.S. District Judge Martin Feldman overturned that ban and is considering a lawsuit challenging a second imposed in July.

The U.S. asked Feldman to postpone a hearing scheduled for tomorrow over this second challenge, while allowing the government to file a status report on regulators’ activities. The milestones that have been met include containment and killing of the BP well and completion of public hearings on the spill, Moreno said.

Ensco Offshore

Sean O’Neill, a spokesman for drilling contractor Ensco Offshore Co., which sued to stop the second ban, didn’t immediately return a call today seeking comment on the government’s request.

The Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, Regulation and Enforcement, the agency that oversees deep-water drilling, “is poised to publish interim final safety regulations that will impose standards and requirements that are critical to the safety of offshore operations,” the government said in the court filing. These regulations will address “issues regarding wellbore integrity and well control equipment.”

The case is Ensco Offshore Co. v. Salazar, 2:10-cv-01941, U.S. District Court, Eastern District of Louisiana (New Orleans).

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