05.31.2010 0

Too Hot Not to Note: Deepwater Drilling Moratorium

  • On: 06/23/2010 00:02:05
  • In: Energy Crisis, Global Warming Fraud, and the Environment
  • ALG Editor’s Note: Yesterday, U.S. District Court Judge Martin Feldman of the Eastern District of Louisiana issued a preliminary injunction against the Department of Interior’s 6-month moratorium on deepwater oil drilling. ALG News has published an excerpt of the decision below:

    Deepwater Drilling Moratorium “Heavy-Handed”, “Overbearing”, “Arbitrary”, and “Capricious”

    Excerpted Court Decision by U.S. District Court Judge Martin Feldman

    The federal moratorium expansively suspends all pending, current or approved drilling operations of new deepwater wells in the Gulf of Mexico and in the Pacific for six months. As declared by the MMS, “deepwater” is defined as depths greater than 500 feet. The Secretary based his decision on a finding that new deepwater wells pose an unacceptable risk of serious and irreparable harm to life and property and a finding that the installation of additional safety or environmental protection equipment is necessary to prevent injury or loss of life and damage to property and the environment. The government also suggests that the Secretary’s decision was influenced by a concern that the government’s resources, stretched thin by the oil spill, could not cope with another blowout were one to occur.

    After reviewing the Secretary’s Report, the Moratorium Memorandum, and the Notice to Lessees, the Court is unable to divine or fathom a relationship between the findings and the immense scope of the moratorium. The Report, invoked by the Secretary, describes the offshore oil industry in the Gulf and offers many compelling recommendations to improve safety. But it offers no time line for implementation, though many of the proposed changes are represented to be implemented immediately. The Report patently lacks any analysis of the asserted fear of threat of irreparable injury or safety hazards posed by the thirty-three permitted rigs also reached by the moratorium. It is incident specific and driven: Deepwater Horizon and BP only. None others. While the Report notes the increase in deepwater drilling over the past ten years and the increased safety risk associated with deepwater drilling, the parameters of “deepwater” remain confused. And drilling elsewhere simply seems driven by political or social agendas on all sides. The Report seems to define “deepwater” as drilling beyond a depth of 1000 feet by referencing the increased difficulty of drilling beyond this depth; similarly, the shallowest depth referenced in the maps and facts included in the Report is “less than 1000 feet.” But while there is no mention of the 500 feet depth anywhere in the Report itself, the Notice to Lessees suddenly defines “deepwater” as more than 500 feet.

    Of course, the present state of the Administrative Record includes more than the Report, the Notice to Lessees, and the Memorandum of Moratorium. It includes a great deal of information consulted by the agency in making its decision. The defendants have submitted affidavits and some documents that purport to explain the agency’s decision-making process. The Shallow Water Energy Security Coalition Presentation attempts at some clarification of the decision to define “deepwater” as depths greater than 500 feet. It is undisputed that at depths of over 500 feet, floating rigs must be used, and the Executive Summary to the Report refers to a moratorium on drilling using “floating rigs.” Other documents submitted summarize some of the tests and studies performed. For example, one study showed that at 3000psi, the shear rams on three of the six tested rigs failed to shear their samples; in the follow up study, various ram models were tested on 214 pipe samples and 7.5% were unsuccessful at shearing the pipe below 3000psi. How these studies support a finding that shear equipment does not work consistently at 500 feet is incomprehensible. If some drilling equipment parts are flawed, is it rational to say all are? Are all airplanes a danger because one was? All oil tankers like Exxon Valdez? All trains? All mines? That sort of thinking seems heavyhanded, and rather overbearing.

    The Court recognizes that the compliance of the thirty-three affected rigs with current government regulations may be irrelevant if the regulations are insufficient or if MMS, the government’s own agent, itself is suspected of being corrupt or incompetent. Nonetheless, the Secretary’s determination that a six-month moratorium on issuance of new permits and on drilling by the thirty-three rigs is necessary does not seem to be fact-specific and refuses to take into measure the safety records of those others in the Gulf. There is no evidence presented indicating that the Secretary balanced the concern for environmental safety with the policy of making leases available for development. There is no suggestion that the Secretary considered any alternatives: for example, an individualized suspension of activities on target rigs until they reached compliance with the new federal regulations said to be recommended for immediate implementation. Indeed, the regulations themselves seem to contemplate an individualized determination by authorizing the suspension of “all or any part of a lease or unit area.” 30 C.F.R. §250.168. Similarly, OCSLA permits suspension of “any operation or activity . . . pursuant to any lease or permit.” 28 U.S.C. §1334(a)(1). The Court cannot substitute its judgment for that of the agency, but the agency must “cogently explain why it has exercised its discretion in a given manner.” State Farm, 463 U.S. at 48. It has not done so.

    The Deepwater Horizon oil spill is an unprecedented, sad, ugly and inhuman disaster. What seems clear is that the federal government has been pressed by what happened on the Deepwater Horizon into an otherwise sweeping confirmation that all Gulf deepwater drilling activities put us all in a universal threat of irreparable harm. While the implementation of regulations and a new culture of safety are supportable by the Report and the documents presented, the blanket moratorium, with no parameters, seems to assume that because one rig failed and although no one yet fully knows why, all companies and rigs drilling new wells over 500 feet also universally present an imminent danger.

    On the record now before the Court, the defendants have failed to cogently reflect the decision to issue a blanket, generic, indeed punitive, moratorium with the facts developed during the thirty-day review. The plaintiffs have established a likelihood of successfully showing that the Administration acted arbitrarily and capriciously in issuing the moratorium.

    ***

    The plaintiffs assert that they have suffered and will continue to suffer irreparable harm as a result of the moratorium. The Court agrees. Some of the plaintiffs’ contracts have been affected; the Court is persuaded that it is only a matter of time before more business and jobs and livelihoods will be lost. The defendants trivialize such losses by characterizing them as merely a small percentage of the drilling rigs affected, but it does not follow that this will somehow reduce the convincing harm suffered. Furthermore, courts have held that in making the determination of irreparable harm, “both harm to the parties and to the public may be considered.” In re Nw. Airlines Corp., 349 B.R. 338, 384 (S.D.N.Y. 2006) (quoting Long Island R.R. v. Int’l Ass’n of Machinists, 874 F.3d 901, 910 (2nd Cir. 1989)). The effect on employment, jobs, loss of domestic energy supplies caused by the moratorium as the plaintiffs (and other suppliers, and the rigs themselves) lose business, and the movement of the rigs to other sites around the world will clearly ripple throughout the economy in this region.

    This Court is persuaded that the public interest weighs in favor of granting a preliminary injunction. While a suspension of activities directed after a rational interpretation of the evidence could outweigh the impact on the plaintiffs and the public, here, the Court has found the plaintiffs would likely succeed in showing that the agency’s decision was arbitrary and capricious. An invalid agency decision to suspend drilling of wells in depths of over 500 feet simply cannot justify the immeasurable effect on the plaintiffs, the local economy, the Gulf region, and the critical present-day aspect of the availability of domestic energy in this country.

    Accordingly, the plaintiffs’ motion for preliminary injunction is GRANTED. An Order consistent with this opinion will be entered.


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