US Interior Dept Will Act On Offshore Oil Permits By March Deadline

WASHINGTON (Dow Jones)–A U.S. official said Wednesday the Interior Department will meet a court-imposed deadline to act on five deepwater drilling permit applications before the end of this month.

A federal judge on Feb. 17 ordered the department to act on five pending applications for offshore drilling within 30 days, ruling in favor of London-based Ensco PLC, which had sued the Interior Department.

The same judge extended the order to two other applications Tuesday.

“We will comply with the court order and make the decision up or down within the time frame required,” said David Hayes, Deputy Secretary of the Interior Department.

The department also indicated it would be challenging the judge’s ruling.

“The judge in this particular case in my view is wrong,” said Interior Secretary Ken Salazar. “We’ll argue the case because I don’t believe the court has a jurisdiction to basically tell the Department of Interior what my administrative responsibilities are.”

-By Ryan Tracy, Dow Jones Newswires