The government in effect is stalling for time as Interior Secretary Ken Salazar crafts a new moratorium that he hopes will pass the legal hurdles posed in the first one issued May 5.
Fifth District Judge Martin Feldman Thursday rejected to stay his decision June 15 when he ruled the government failed to prove its case shutting down exploratory drilling platforms in the Gulf was necessary for safety reasons just because one failed.
No immediate word from the government that it take its case to the 5th District Court of Appeal.
The case involves only the moratorium applied to the 33 deepwater exploratory rigs in the Gulf. There are more than 3,600 wells now drilling in deep and shallower waters of 500 feet or less.
It is unknown whether work on the 32 rigs has resumed although industry experts said last week it would be unlikely until the path was cleared from legal stays, appeals and the now possibility of a new moratorium.
The moratorium designed to allow time for the government to assess the safety conditions on all drilling wells was invoked after the Deepwater Horizons platform exploded April 20 that killed 11 crew. The resultant blowout has dumped an estimated 60,000 to 100,000 barrels daily of gas, crude and dispersant chemicals causing what the government classifies as the worst accidental environmental disaster in the nation's history.
Salazar on Thursday told the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee the Department is reviewing plans for BP, the leaseholder of Deepwater Horizons, to drill off the Alaska coast.
Interior's former Mineral Management Services agency waived environmental review of the Liberty Fields project in 2007.
"The whole process for approving Liberty was bizarre," one of the scientists said in a New York Times story Wednesday.
Liberty Fields is a 31-acre mound of gravel dumped three miles off the Alaska coast in the Beaufort Sea and is considered by BP and the government at that time a land-based oil drilling operation even though pipes would extend at least eight miles out to sea in search of a deepwater oil reserve.
The project has already received its state and federal environmental permits, but BP has yet to file its final application to federal regulators to begin drilling, which it expects to start in the fall, the Times reported.
Rather than conducting their own independent analysis, federal regulators, in a break from usual practice, allowed BP in 2007 to write its own environmental review for the project as well as its own consultation documents relating to the Endangered Species Act, according to two scientists from the Alaska office of the federal Mineral Management Service that oversees drilling.
BP said Liberty would provide about 400 jobs and add an estimated 100 billion barrels of oil produced from U.S. lands.