Discuss as:

Gov't asks oil judge to put decision on hold

In dueling court filings late Wednesday, the government asked the judge who blocked the federal moratorium on offshore oil and gas drilling to put his own ruling on hold, while oil companies asked him to do just the opposite -- to speed up enforcement of his order, accusing the government of defying his ruling.

"Just hours after the court issued its preliminary injunction order," said lawyers for the oil service companies who originally challenged the moratorium, Interior Secretary Ken Salazar "announced the de facto continuance of the moratorium in direct defiance of this court's order." Salazar said in a statement Tuesday that the government would shortly issue a new moratorium on deepwater drilling. He also told a congressional hearing that "the moratorium stays in place," they said in their court filings.

Those comments, the energy company lawyers say, chill any efforts to resume drilling activity, which they claim is precisely what the judge was trying to prevent. Let the government appeal and try to get the judge's order stopped in court, they argue, but in the meantime make the government obey it.

The Justice Department, on the other hand, urged the judge to put his ruling on ice while the Obama administration seeks to have it reversed it in the federal appeals court in New Orleans. Keeping the moratorium in place, the government says, "would further serve the public interest by eliminating the risk of another drilling accident while new safety equipment standards and procedures are considered."

What's more, the government says, the oil companies have demonstrated a risk of short-term economic harm to the Gulf states, but the Interior Department sought the moratorium "to prevent the risk of more loss of life and long-term environmental and economic devastation like that arising from the Deepwater Horizon accident."

In the mean time, the Justice Department says, despite Secretary Salazar's statements, the government will comply with the judge's order blocking the moratorium.