Appeals court issues a stay on drilling ruling
NEW ORLEANS - A federal appeals court has blocked a judge's order requiring regulators to act on several drilling permit applications.
The federal government filed court documents earlier this month saying it may have to deny the applications if regulators must make a decision within 30 days as ordered.
The order was issued by U.S. District Judge Martin Feldman, who overturned the Obama administration's moratorium on deepwater drilling. That moratorium followed energy company BP PLC's oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico last year.
Feldman ruled last month that the government must act on five applications within 30 days. He later said his ruling also applies to two other permits.
But the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals issued a stay Tuesday, blocking Feldman's ruling pending the outcome of the government's appeal.
The moratorium that was imposed after the April 20, 2010, rig explosion and resulting oil spill off Louisiana was painful for drilling operators and oil services firms that rely on the industry for business. The ban cost jobs and revenue.
The ban was lifted Oct. 12, but deepwater activities were still stalled for months after that, as regulators required strict new rules to be complied with before they would start issuing permits again for previously suspended activities.
The first deepwater permit since the oil spill for activity that was previously suspended was issued Feb. 28. A second one was issued just recently. Neither of those two permits was among the seven covered by Feldman's ruling, according to a spokeswoman for the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management Regulation and Enforcement.
The blast aboard the Deepwater Horizon rig killed 11 workers. It led to some 200 million gallons of oil spewing from a well a mile beneath the sea, according to government estimates that BP disputes.