Published on
by
The Guardian/UK

Judge Who Overturned Drilling Bans had Shares in the Oil Industry

Martin Feldman, who ruled against Barack Obama's moratorium, accused of conflict of interests

by
Matthew Weaver and agencies

An oil worker's hat lies on a polluted Louisiana beach. The White House is to appeal against the lifting of the drilling ban. (Photograph: Lee Celano/Reuters)

The judge who overturned deepwater drilling bans allowing BP to resume oil extraction in the Gulf of Mexico, had shares in Transocean and other firms in the industry, it was revealed today.

Yesterday, a Louisiana-based judge Martin Feldman ruled that Barack Obama's six-month drilling moratorium in the Gulf was unjustified because it assumed that all deepwater drilling was as dangerous as BP's.

The White House promised an immediate appeal.

Meanwhile
environmental groups have said Feldman's ruling may have to be
rescinded because of the possible conflict of interests.

Feldman's most recent financial disclosure forms
show that he was paid dividends from his shares in Transocean, the firm
that owned the Deepwater oil rig that exploded in April killing 11 oil
workers, prompting America's worst environmental disaster.

The
forms, which relate to the calendar year 2008, also show that he sold
shares in Halliburton, which was also involved in the disaster.

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Feldman's
other interests included Ocean Energy, Quicksilver Resources, Prospect
Energy, Peabody Energy, Pengrowth Energy Trust, Atlas Energy Resources,
and Parker Drilling.

Obama's 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.

Feldman has yet to respond to the disclosures.
He 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 claims, while others have sold their holdings so they can
preside over many cases being filed.

Josh Reichert, managing
director of the Pew Environment Group, said the ruling should be
rescinded if he still held such shares.

"If Judge Feldman has any
investments in oil and gas operators in the Gulf, it represents a
flagrant conflict of interest," Reichert said.

At least two major oil companies, Shell and Marathon, said they would wait for the appeal before resuming drilling.

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