As far as the Obama administration is concerned, a federal judge’s ruling this week striking down new safety measures for offshore oil and gas drilling has no impact because it finds fault with the implementation of a policy that no longer applies.
U.S. District Judge Martin Feldman in New Orleans ruled Tuesday that a batch of 10 new emergency safety rules for drilling operations that were imposed June 8 by the Interior Department, known as Notice to Lessees 2010-N05, or NTL-05, did not go through a proper public process.
“Notice and comment were required by law,” Feldman wrote. “The government did not comply and the NTL-05 is of no lawful force or effect.”
But nobody is disputing that NTL-05 is in effect. An Interior Department document says a Sept. 30 “interim final rule” superseded NTL-05.
NTL-05 had a clear impact on shallow-water drilling operations during most of the seven-month ban on deepwater drilling, and smaller operators said it was artificially holding up their permits.
But now the federal government appears ready to impose the same rules from NTL-05 on future drilling by using the interim final rule, regardless of what Feldman does.
The judge’s latest ruling was made in the course of a lawsuit by London-based Ensco Plc against Interior Secretary Ken Salazar. In July, Feldman said Salazar’s deepwater drilling moratorium was arbitrary and capricious, so the Interior secretary rewrote the ban. On Oct. 13, after Salazar ended the drilling suspension early, the Justice Department contended the whole Ensco lawsuit was moot.
Feldman is scheduled to consider that question next month.