Judge holds Interior in contempt over drilling ban

Feldman is the judge who last June struck down Interior’s initial drilling ban, issued in the wake of the BP oil spill. Interior issued a new version of the deepwater ban in July that it eventually lifted in October, but permitting for deepwater projects has not yet resumed.

Feldman’s order Wednesday takes Interior to task for the way it went about issuing a new, but very similar, version of the ban after he granted an injunction against the first one.

“Such dismissive conduct, viewed in tandem with the reimposition of a second blanket and substantively identical moratorium and in light of the national importance of this case, provide this Court with clear and convincing evidence of the government’s contempt of this Court’s preliminary injunction Order,” Fedman wrote in Wednesday’s ruling. Feldman is with the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District Court of Louisiana.

The Interior Department declined to comment on the new ruling.

Michael Bromwich, who heads Interior’s Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, Regulation and Enforcement, recently said the agency will likely resume permitting for deepwater drilling projects during the first half of this year, but didn’t provide specifics.

Interior is requiring offshore oil-and-gas companies to comply with a host of toughened safety standards crafted in response to last year’s Deepwater Horizon disaster.