Judge Bans Media from Gulf Oil Spill Hearing

U.S. District Judge Martin L. C. Feldman over oil rig
A federal judge on Tuesday barred news organizations from a conference over a company's claim that the government has not yet issued a single permit to allow offshore drilling even though a moratorium was lifted in October.

Special Section: Disaster in the Gulf

U.S. District Judge Martin Feldman said the hearing would be held in his chambers. He said news organizations had no right to attend.

The government is defending the time it is taking to approve deepwater offshore drilling permits that would have been suspended under the moratorium that was lifted nearly a month ago.

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Ensco Offshore claims that since the ban was lifted Oct. 12, the government has not issued a single permit that would allow the resumption of any previously suspended drilling activities.

The government doesn't seem to dispute that allegation, saying in a late Monday filing that it must ensure applications meet regulations toughened after the Gulf of Mexico oil spill.

The issue was to be discussed at Tuesday's hearing.

Since Oct. 12, the government has received one application for a permit to drill a new well and one to drill a sidetrack. It also received three revised applications for permits to drill. All are pending.

The moratorium was ordered in the wake of the April 20 explosion on the BP-leased Deepwater Horizon rig. The blast killed 11 workers and spawned a massive oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico off the Louisiana coast.

Last summer, Feldman's financial disclosure report, which covers investments for 2009, showed he owned eight energy-related investments including stock in Exxon Mobil Corp.

In an attachment to the report, the judge said he sold his Exxon Mobil stock this June when he was hearing the oil spill case. He also sold stock in Transocean, the Switzerland-based company that owned the drilling rig operated by BP that spewed oil into the Gulf of Mexico.