WASHINGTON — A federal judge Tuesday struck down President Barack Obama's six-month ban on new deepwater drilling, siding with oil companies.
While the White House said it would immediately appeal the decision, environmental groups launched a quicker salvo, publicizing financial disclosure forms that showed that the judge in the case, Martin Feldman of the U.S. District Court in New Orleans, owns or has owned shares in several oil and gas firms. According to Feldman's 2008 disclosures, he held up to $15,000 in Transocean, the owner of the ill-fated rig at a BP well that's pouring oil into the Gulf of Mexico.
Legal experts said the revelation of a potential conflict of interest would bolster the Obama administration's case, but appealing the decision puts the president at odds with many Gulf Coast residents, who rely on the oil industry for tens of thousands of jobs.
The administration will appeal the ruling to the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in New Orleans.
The moratorium affected 33 deepwater exploration rigs but didn't halt activity on some 7,000 active leases in the gulf, which contribute 31 percent of total domestic U.S. oil production.
Meanwhile, oil executives meeting in London sent a strong challenge to Obama, warning at a major oil conference that a ban on deepwater drilling would cripple world energy supplies.
Late Tuesday, Interior Secretary Ken Salazar said he will issue a new order imposing a deepwater drilling moratorium.
In Florida, watching and waiting for oil
APALACHICOLA — Florida coastal protection measures edged ever eastward Tuesday with Franklin County workers laying boom to protect fragile estuaries around this famed oystering community.
On Monday, about 7,700 feet of boom was put in the waters, officials said, with plans for nearly 20,000 feet to be placed today.
Apalachicola is home to the most fertile oyster beds in the Gulf of Mexico and the economic lifeblood of the region. No oil had landed yet but there were worries aplenty.
In Tallahassee, a state assessment put the oil plume 17 miles from Panama City and 227 miles from St. Petersburg.
Preparations are also under way in Port St. Joe, to the west of Apalachicola.
By Tuesday, the gulf's no-fishing zone straddled 86,985 square miles, approximately 36 percent of federal waters.
BP makes progress siphoning crude
A containment device is sucking up some of the oil gushing from the well. Coast Guard Adm. Thad Allen said it had collected nearly 1.1 million gallons in 24 hours, a new record. No one knows exactly how much oil is spilling, but BP hopes to contain as much as 90 percent of it over the next few weeks. The current worst-case estimate is about 2.5 million gallons a day.