U.S. Says Drill Ban Suit Irrelevant, Seeks Dismissal

U.S. Interior Secretary Kenneth Salazar’s lawyers asked a federal judge in New Orleans to throw out most of an oil industry lawsuit challenging the legality of a deep-water drilling moratorium that the government has lifted.

U.S. regulators imposed the moratorium on drilling in waters deeper than 500 feet on July 12, to replace an earlier ban struck down by U.S. District Judge Martin Feldman in New Orleans. Feldman threw out the first ban, imposed after the BP Plc oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, as too broad.

Offshore service companies challenged the second moratorium as well, in a lawsuit pending before Feldman, claiming Salazar had broken federal statutes in imposing a ban that was harming the Gulf Coast’s economy. The U.S. earlier asked Feldman to reject this lawsuit, calling the ban a matter of public policy.

Salazar terminated the deep-water moratorium yesterday, six weeks before it was set to expire, saying the industry was meeting milestones for improvements in drilling safety. He said vital oil-spill response capabilities had also become available since BP’s blown-out well was permanently sealed in September.

“The secretary’s termination of the suspensions under the July directive has eradicated the effects of the alleged violations by providing plaintiff with the relief it was seeking,’’ Ignacia Moreno, an assistant attorney general in the Justice Department’s environmental division, said today in a court filing. “The termination directive has mooted plaintiff’s claims.’’

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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