NEW ORLEANS -- A federal judge struck down the Obama administration's six-month ban on deepwater oil drilling in the Gulf of Mexico as rash and heavy-handed Tuesday, saying the government simply assumed that because one rig exploded, the others pose an imminent danger, too.
The White House promised an immediate appeal. The Interior Department had imposed the moratorium last month in the wake of the BP disaster, halting approval of any new permits for deepwater projects and suspending drilling on 33 exploratory wells.
White House press secretary Robert Gibbs said President Barack Obama thinks that until investigations can determine why the spill happened, continued deepwater drilling exposes workers and the environment to "a danger that the president does not believe we can afford."
Several companies that ferry people and supplies and provide other services to offshore rigs argued that the moratorium was arbitrarily imposed after the April 20 explosion that killed 11 workers and blew out a well 5,000 feet underwater. It has spewed anywhere from 67 million to 127 million gallons of oil.
U.S. District Judge Martin Feldman, who was appointed by President Ronald Reagan and has owned stock in a number of petroleum-related companies, sided with the plaintiffs.
"If some drilling equipment parts are flawed, is it rational to say all are?" he asked. "Are all airplanes a danger because one was? All oil tankers like Exxon Valdez? All trains? All mines? That sort of thinking seems heavy-handed, and rather overbearing. He also warned that the shutdown would have an "immeasurable effect" on the industry, the local economy and the U.S. energy supply.
He also warned that the shutdown would have an "immeasurable effect" on the industry, the local economy and the U.S. energy supply.
Interior Secretary Ken Salazar said in a statement late Tuesday that within the next few days he will issue a new order imposing a moratorium that eliminates any doubt it is needed and appropriate.
Feldman's ruling was welcomed by the oil and gas industry and by environmentalists.
In his ruling, the judge called the spill "an unprecedented, sad, ugly and inhuman disaster," but said Salazar's rationale for the moratorium "does not seem to be fact-specific and refuses to take into measure the safety records of those others in the Gulf."