Texas Sues Feds Over Gulf Drilling Ban

By: Austin American-Stateman & AP
By: Austin American-Stateman & AP

(AUSTIN AMERICAN STATESMAN) - Accusing the Obama administration of exceeding its authority and violating federal law, Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott filed a lawsuit Wednesday seeking to end a moratorium on deep-water oil drilling in the Gulf of Mexico.

The drilling ban, announced July 12 amid fears of additional catastrophic blowouts after the Deepwater Horizon disaster pumped millions of gallons of crude oil into the Gulf, was enacted without consulting Texas — or properly weighing the economic impact — as required by federal law, Abbott told a U.S. District Court in Houston.

"Affected states are guaranteed the right to participate in offshore drilling-related policy decisions, but the Obama administration did not bother to communicate, coordinate or cooperate with Texas," Abbott said Wednesday. "Worse, the secretary of the interior failed to consider the economic consequences of his decision."

The Texas lawsuit, filed on behalf of Gov. Rick Perry and Land Commissioner Jerry Patterson, estimates that a six-month moratorium would cost the state economy $622 million and cut state and local tax revenue by $22 million.

The U.S. Interior Department, in opposing a Louisiana lawsuit raising similar arguments, has said the drilling ban is an environmental issue, not an economic one, that does not run afoul of federal laws.

"A pause on deepwater drilling is essential and appropriate to protect communities, coasts and wildlife," Interior Secretary Ken Salazar said in announcing the ban in July. "I am basing my decision on evidence that grows every day of the industry's inability in the deep water to contain a catastrophic blowout, respond to an oil spill and to operate safely."

The moratorium, enacted after a Louisiana federal judge barred the government from enforcing a similar ban in June, is set to end Nov. 30.

The Texas lawsuit accuses the Obama administration of ignoring the Outer Continental Shelf Lands Act , which Abbott said required Salazar to coordinate with affected states and assess a moratorium's economic impact before banning offshore drilling.

"Once again, the Obama administration has demonstrated a flagrant disregard for the rights and economies of states and the well-being of those whose jobs depend upon a safe and vibrant energy industry, many of whom live in Texas," Perry said in a statement.

The moratorium halted drilling on 33 Gulf wells operating more than 500 feet deep and stopped new wells from being permitted. The ban did not affect producing deep-water wells.

(AP) - Interior Department spokeswoman Kendra Barkoff defended the ban but declined to comment specifically on the Texas lawsuit.

"The Deepwater Horizon/BP oil disaster has made it clear that we need better health, safety and environmental standards for drilling operations," Barkoff said in an e-mailed statement. "The temporary pause on deep-water drilling that Secretary Salazar has put in place is simply common sense, and we continue to stand behind it."

The current moratorium replaced one that was blocked by the courts. The Interior Department says it's meant to give to give oil and gas companies time to implement adequate safety measures. The ban is in effect until Nov. 30, unless federal officials determine deep-water drilling operations have gotten safer.

Also Wednesday, the Justice Department asked a federal judge who overturned the initial moratorium to throw out that court challenge filed by several offshore service companies, arguing that it is moot now that the new ban is in place.

Company lawyers, however, claim the second moratorium is a "carbon copy" of the first and is a sham designed to circumvent U.S. District Judge Martin Feldman's earlier order by prolonging the court challenge.

The new ban does not seem to deviate much from the original moratorium in that it still targets deep-water drilling operators while defining them in a different way.

ESNCO Offshore Co. has filed a separate lawsuit challenging the new moratorium. Feldman also is presiding over that case.

Meanwhile, the Interior Department is hosting eight forums — including a Houston session in September — to gather information from experts and federal, state and local leaders about drilling safety reform, well containment and oil spill response. With that information, officials plan to consider whether to continue, end, reduce or expand the moratorium.

Read this article on Statesman.com: "Texas sues Feds over Gulf drilling ban"

Read more on Yahoo News: "Texas sues feds over offshore drilling ban"

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