A federal judge in Louisiana has ruled that the U.S. Department of Interior (DOI) exceeded its authority when it implemented stricter safety procedures for offshore drilling operators in the Gulf of Mexico. Ensco Offshore Co. v. Salazar, No. 10-1941 (E.D. La. 10/19/10). The government argued that the new procedures were a “valid exercise of [DOI’s] authority under the Outer Continental Shelf Lands Act” and that the safety requirements were an “interpretative rule that requires no notice or opportunity for comment.” The procedures that DOI issued without notice or comment included requirements for equipment certifications, blowout preventer configuration and performance information, and additional safety and inspection procedures.

Plaintiff, a deepwater drilling contractor headquartered in Dallas, Texas, argued that the requirements should be vacated “because [they] impose new, substantive drilling requirements without having first provided the requisite notice or opportunity for comment as required by law.” The court agreed with plaintiff, ruling that although the Outer Continental Shelf Lands Act authorizes the government to issue the procedures, “this permission has limits; it cannot escape the APA [Administrative Procedure Act].” The APA, said the court, requires agencies to provide notice and seek public comment before promulgating rules.