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Texas suing White House over drilling moratorium

HOUSTON — The Texas attorney general sued the Obama administration yesterday over its new deep-water offshore drilling moratorium, claiming it is unjustified and federal officials did not contact the state before issuing the ban.

Attorney General Greg Abbott filed the 18-page suit in federal court in Houston against Department of the Interior Secretary Ken Salazar. The ban halted the approval of any new permits for deep-water projects and shut down drilling at 33 exploratory ocean wells in the wake of the BP spill in the Gulf of Mexico.

In his lawsuit, Abbott called the ban “an unjustified, arbitrary and capricious policy that will inflict harm upon coastal communities.”

Also, the suit said, federal officials did not coordinate with the state or consider the economic impacts before issuing the moratorium. Texas is one of the nation’s most active oil refinery states. State figures show there were 86,900 jobs in oil and natural gas extraction in April and an additional 107,800 in support industries.

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 yesterday, 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.


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