US judge who overturned drilling ban owns oil shares

An American judge who struck out the Obama administration’s six-month ban on deepwater oil drilling in the Gulf of Mexico has extensive investments in the oil and gas industry, according to financial disclosure reports.

US district judge Martin Feldman, from Louisiana, who was appointed by Ronald Reagan, reported holding nearly $15,000 in shares in Transocean, the company that owned the Deepwater Horizon drilling rig responsible for the BP oil spill disaster.

Judge Feldman’s 2008 financial disclosure report – the most recent available - also showed investments in Ocean Energy, a Houston-based company, as well as Quicksilver Resources, Prospect Energy, Peabody Energy, Halliburton, Pengrowth Energy Trust, Atlas Energy Resources, Parker Drilling and others.

Halliburton was also involved in the doomed Deepwater Horizon project.

Judge Feldman overturned the ban on deepwater oil drilling yesterday, saying the US government simply assumed that because one rig exploded, the others therefore pose an imminent danger.

The White House promised an immediate appeal.

The US Interior Department imposed the moratorium last month in the wake of the BP disaster, halting approval of any new permits for deepwater projects and suspending drilling on 33 exploratory wells.

Interior secretary Ken Salazar said in a statement late yesterday that within the next few days he would issue a new order imposing a moratorium that eliminates any doubt that it is needed and appropriate.

Several companies that ferry people and supplies and provide other services to offshore rigs argued that the moratorium was arbitrarily imposed after the April 20 explosion that killed 11 workers and blew out a well 5,000ft underwater.

It has leaked between 67 million and 127 million gallons of oil.

Judge Feldman is one of many federal judges across the Gulf Coast region with money in oil and gas.

Several have disqualified themselves from hearing spill-related lawsuits and others have sold their holdings so they can preside over some of the 200-plus cases.

Josh Reichert, managing director of the Pew Environment Group, said the ruling should be rescinded if Judge Feldman still has investments in companies that could benefit.

He said: “If Judge Feldman has any investments in oil and gas operators in the Gulf, it represents a flagrant conflict of interest.”

Judge Feldman’s ruling prohibits federal officials from enforcing the moratorium until a trial is held.

At least two major oil companies, Shell and Marathon, said they would wait to see how the appeals play out before resuming drilling.

Executives at a major oil conference in London warned that the moratorium would cripple world energy supplies. Steven Newman, president and chief executive of Transocean, called it unnecessary and an overreaction.

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