Judge to hear bid to overturn drilling moratorium

NEW ORLEANS - Several oil service companies are asking a federal judge to block the enforcement of a six-month moratorium on new deepwater drilling projects in the Gulf of Mexico by the Interior Department.

U.S. District Judge Martin Feldman is scheduled to hear arguments Monday on a bid for a court-ordered lift of the moratorium at the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Louisiana. The bid was by Hornbeck Offshore Services, which is based out of Covington.

A lawsuit filed by Hornbeck claimes the government arbitrarily imposed the moratorium and suspended drilling at 33 existing exploratory wells without any proof that the operations posed a threat. Oil companies want the government to have to prove there’s a threat before shutting rigs down.

Oil businesses, Hornbeck among them, fear that the moratorium will drive the industry out of the Gulf of Mexico and send the rigs and ships to Brazil or Africa. The Covington-based company says the moratorium could cost Louisiana millions of dollars in lost wages and thousands of jobs.

However, government lawyers say the company’s allegations are both “alarmist and speculative” about the potential economic impact of the move. The Obama administration put a six-month hold on new wells in water deeper than 500 feet.