Government Seeks to Delay Start of Deepwater Drilling

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Byline: Michael Kunzelman Associated Press

NEW ORLEANS -- A federal judge who overturned a six-month moratorium on deepwater drilling imposed after the Gulf oil spill refused Thursday to put his ruling on hold while the government appeals.

The Justice Department had asked U.S. District Judge Martin Feldman to delay his ruling until the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in New Orleans can review it. Feldman rejected that request Thursday.

On Tuesday, he struck down the Interior Department's moratorium that halted approval of new permits for deepwater projects and suspended drilling on 33 exploratory wells. Feldman concluded the government simply assumed that because one deepwater rig went up in flames, others were dangerous too.

The moratorium was imposed after the offshore oil rig Deepwater Horizon exploded April 20, killing 11 workers. Oil has gushed from the blown-out well ever since.

The Justice Department said in court papers that Interior Secretary Ken Salazar has instructed all employees not to enforce the moratorium. Rig operators are getting letters that say suspension notices they received have no legal effect right now. …