White House to re-impose moratorium on Gulf of Mexico exploration

The White House was moving yesterday to re-impose a six-month moratorium on deep-sea exploration in the Gulf of Mexico just one day after a federal judge in Louisiana said such a measure was illegal in spite of the environmental calamity unleashed by the ongoing BP leak.

Details of how the administration intended to renew the measure were to be spelled out later yesterday by the Interior Secretary, Ken Salazar. He and his boss, President Barack Obama, argue that no further drilling or exploration should be allowed at depths beyond 500 feet pending the outcome of several investigations into the 20 April explosions that destroyed the Deepwater Horizon rig.

“We see clear evidence every day, as oil spills from BP’s well, of the need for a pause on deepwater drilling,” Mr Salazar said in a statement yesterday before heading to Capitol Hill to testify to a congressional panel investigation the leak.

Potentially helping the White House was an Associated Press report that Judge Martin Feldman, whose Tuesday ruling overturned the ban, had serial investments in the oil drilling industry according to his most recent financial disclosures dating back to 2008.

The records show that Judge Feldman, appointed to the bench by former president Ronald Reagan in 1983, reported owning less than $15,000 of stock in Transocean, the company that owned the Deepwater Horizon at the well leased by BP. He also had interests in raft of other drilling companies such as in Ocean Energy, a Houston-based company, Quicksilver Resources, Prospect Energy, Peabody Energy, Halliburton, Pengrowth Energy Trust, Atlas Energy Resources, Parker Drilling.

The judge’s holdings were seized upon by environmental groups who firmly support the drilling moratorium. “If Judge Feldman has any investments in oil and gas operators in the Gulf, it represents a flagrant conflict of interest,” insisted Josh Reichert, managing director of the Pew Environment Group.

New waves of tar sludge were washing up on the white beaches of Pensacola, Florida, yesterday right in front of nearly empty tourist hotels. BP reported that on Tuesday it captured 27,000 barrels of oil from the seabed, the highest quantity of oil siphoned off in a single day so far. However, the containment system was taken off the well yesterday – for how long it was not clear – and the oil was spewing at full speed.

Robert Dudley, the BP managing director who has taken over daily responsibility for the company’s spill response, rejected speculation that his immediate boss, CEO Tony Hayward, may be on his way out for his widely criticised handling of the crisis. “Tony Hayward is fully committed to this,” Mr Dudley insisted.

Mr Dudley, a native of Mississippi, was formally appointed president and chief executive of the newly created Gulf Coast Restoration Organization, effective immediately, and will report to Hayward.

“In the near term, my focus will be on listening to stakeholders, so we can address concerns and remove obstacles that get in the way of our effectiveness. And we’ll build an organization that over the longer term fulfils BP's commitments to the restore the livelihoods and the environment of the Gulf Coast,” he said.