WASHINGTON - The Obama administration defended a six-month moratorium on U.S. deepwater offshore drilling in court on Wednesday, saying the freeze was needed to ensure safety after the Gulf of Mexico oil spill.
An oilfield services firm, Hornbeck Offshore Services LLC, has asked a federal court in Louisiana for an injunction lifting the ban, saying it was not based on factual findings and violated U.S. law governing offshore drilling.
Deputy Interior Secretary David Hayes told the court the ban was lawful and was needed "to ensure that no further drilling accidents occur pending review and implementation of safety protocols and procedure."
The ban followed the explosion at a BP Plc oil well drilling site in the Gulf of Mexico on April 20, which has led to as much as 60,000 barrels of oil spewing into the fragile ecosystem each day.
"The short-term economic harm asserted by plaintiffs fails to meet their burden of demonstrating irreparable harm," Hayes said. "In contrast, the public interest is overwhelmingly served by the limited six-month suspensions."
He told the court the Interior Department is working with the Coast Guard to determine the cause of the disaster and that the ban was needed to "minimize the possibility of another catastrophic event on the outer continental shelf."
The suspension will also provide time for the Interior Department to study and recommend additional safety and training needs in case of another oil well blowout, Hayes said in an seven-page declaration.
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