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Offshore drilling moratorium: good for the Gulf, bad for the economy?

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Yes. On May 28, Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar announced a "six-month suspension of all pending, current, or approved offshore drilling operations of new deep-water wells – those more than 500 feet deep – in the Gulf of Mexico and the Pacific regions." That first nationwide moratorium was, on July 12, superseded by a second order (see following question) that blocks offshore deep-water drilling in the same areas. That second order remains in force until Nov. 30 – unless it is successfully challenged in court or until Mr. Salazar lifts it. The moratorium has halted drilling at 33 deep-water sites in the Gulf of Mexico.

Didn't a federal judge stop the moratorium?

Yes, but only temporarily. On June 22, US District Court Judge Martin Feldman, responding to an industry lawsuit claiming economic harm, issued a preliminary injunction blocking the first six-month moratorium. He ruled that the moratorium was overbroad as well as "arbitrary and capricious." On July 8, a government motion to suspend the judge's injunction failed in the US Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit, based in New Orleans.

In response, Salazar four days later issued a new order in which the government did not cite water depth to define the type of drilling to be banned but instead banned drilling by certain floating deep-water drill rigs. That new suspension has the same effect as the old moratorium, but may be harder for the oil industry to reverse in court, experts say.

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