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“The safeguards and regulations in place on April 20 did not create a sufficient margin of safety,” said Justice Department attorney Guillermo Montero.

Judge Feldman asked a government lawyer why the Interior Department decided to suspend deepwater drilling after the rig explosion when it didn’t bar oil tankers from Alaskan waters after the Exxon Valdez spill in 1989 or take similar actions in the wake of other industrial accidents.

“The Deepwater Horizon blowout was a game-changer,” Mr. Montero said. “It really illustrates the risks that are inherent in deepwater drilling.”

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