WASHINGTON — The Obama administration on Wednesday night asked a judge to delay a court ruling that overturned a moratorium on new drilling in the Gulf.
In court papers, the Justice Department said that it is seeking the delay while appealing the decision of U.S. District Judge Martin Feldman.
The Justice Department says a delay would serve the public interest by eliminating the risk of another drilling accident while new safety equipment standards and procedures are considered. The papers were filed with the U.S. District Court in New Orleans.
The Interior Department 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.
On Tuesday, Feldman overturned it, saying the government simply assumed that because one deep-water rig exploded, the others pose an imminent danger, too.
Interior Secretary Ken Salazar's determination that a threat exists has firm support from a variety of sources, the Justice Department argued in seeking the delay.
"The existence of such a threat is not seriously contested" by any expert cited by the companies seeking to overturn the moratorium or by the state of Louisiana, the court filing stated.
"To the contrary, the state of Louisiana concedes that additional safety measures are necessary, and disputes only the length of time needed to implement them," the department added.
Feldman, appointed by President Ronald Reagan in 1983, has reported extensive investments in the oil and gas industry, including owning less than $15,000 of Transocean stock, according to financial disclosure reports for 2008, the most recent available. He did not return calls Tuesday seeking more information about his investments.
Several companies, including Shell and Marathon Oil, said they would await the outcome of any appeals before they start drilling again.
Asked about it Wednesday on NBC's "Today" show, BP Managing Director Bob Dudley said his company will "step back" from the issue while it investigates the rig explosion.
BP said Wednesday that Dudley has been appointed to head the new Gulf Coast Restoration Organization, which is in charge of cleaning up the spill. He takes over from BP CEO Tony Hayward, who has been widely criticized for his handling of the crisis.
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