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Judge blocks motion to dismiss lawsuit against deepwater drilling ban

By the CNN Wire Staff
  • A moratorium was first issued in May after the Gulf oil spill began
  • The ban was overturned in June
  • A second moratorium was issued in July
  • The ruling Wednesday denies the government's motion to dismiss a suit against the ban

(CNN) -- A federal judge on Wednesday denied a motion by the Obama administration to dismiss a lawsuit that aims to block a government-imposed moratorium on deepwater drilling in the Gulf of Mexico.

A six-month moratorium was first issued by Interior Secretary Ken Salazar in May after the April 20 explosion of the drilling rig Deepwater Horizon that killed 11 people and triggered one of the worst environmental disasters in U.S. history.

A group of companies that provide boats and equipment to the offshore drilling industry filed a lawsuit claiming the government has no evidence that existing operations pose a threat to the Gulf and asked the court to declare the moratorium invalid and unenforceable.

U.S. District Court Judge Martin Feldman agreed and overturned the ban in June. Feldman's ruling was upheld on appeal.

A second drilling ban -- set to expire in November -- was issued in July after the injunction was issued.

In the motion to dismiss the suit, the government argued the case should be thrown out because "the first moratorium has been revoked and superseded by a new, second moratorium," adding that the plaintiffs "have only challenged the May 28 moratorium and that directive has been rescinded and lacks any present legal effect."

The plaintiffs, however, argued that the new moratorium "is the functional equivalent of the first one," according to court documents.

In Wednesday's ruling, Feldman -- the same judge in New Orleans, Louisiana -- agreed, writing, "In reality, the new moratorium covers precisely the same rigs and precisely the same deepwater drilling in the Gulf of Mexico as did the first moratorium."

The government has argued that such a ban is needed to "protect communities, coasts, and wildlife" while oil and gas companies implement safety measures to reduce the risks of blowouts and oil spills associated with deepwater drilling.

Critics of the ban say it will only hurt oil and gas workers in the already hard-hit coastal communities where hundreds of jobs have been lost because of the disaster.

The government says 205.8 million gallons of oil escaped from the well before it was sealed on July 15.

Efforts to permanently seal the well were stalled Tuesday because of rough seas. Officials had planned to detach a device called a blowout preventer from the well and replace it with a new one.

Removal of the device will need to be done carefully, because the blowout preventer may hold valuable forensic evidence as to why it failed on April 20, triggering the massive explosion.