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Last updated: March 1, 2011 12:26 am
US regulators approved the first deepwater drilling permit in the Gulf of Mexico since BP’s Macondo well disaster last April, and signalled that further permits could be awarded in the “coming weeks and months”.
The Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, Regulation and Enforcement gave permission to Noble Energy to restart a well that was halted after the Obama administration issued its moratorium on deepwater drilling.
“This permit was issued for one simple reason: the operator successfully demonstrated that it can drill its deepwater well safely and that it is capable of containing a subsea blow-out if it were to occur,’’ said Michael Bromwich, bureau director. Noble said it could contain a spill in the event of an accident using one of two systems developed by the industry.
Noble plans to use the Helix Well Containment Group’s capping stack, which is said to be able to stop a leak in 5,600 feet of water. Mr Bromwich said the permit did not signal support for the Helix system over the other system under development, the Marine Well Containment Company backed by ExxonMobil, Royal Dutch Shell, Chevron and ConocoPhillips.
The industry and some members of Congress have been urging a resumption of activity in the Gulf of Mexico as fuel costs rise and instability in north Africa raises fears of future supply constraints. Mr Bromwich denied any politics behind the approval. “It was ready to be acted on and approved,’’ he said.
This week, Ken Salazar, US interior secretary, will testify before Congress and is expected to come under pressure over the pace of permit awards.
Shell said in a statement: “While it is encouraging that the industry now has a green light to resume previously approved drilling operations in the deepwater Gulf of Mexico, we are hopeful this positive momentum will drive forward much-needed, new exploratory drilling in a timely manner.’’
Mr Bromwich said: “We expect further deepwater permits to be approved in coming weeks and months.”
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