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Last updated: October 21, 2011 4:05 pm
BP has moved a step closer to returning to drilling in the Gulf of Mexico following the devastating spill last year, after its exploration plan was approved by US regulators.
The UK oil group still needs to obtain a permit to drill an appraisal well in the Kaskida field but the green light from the US Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM) is a key requirement.
Regulators banned all new drilling until October last year after the spill and since then rivals including Royal Dutch Shell have returned to drilling. BP had been slower to file for permits while it reviewed its safety procedures and the company’s production has been impacted severely by the continued absence of high margin barrels from the gulf. Analysts are expecting its third quarter figures, due next Tuesday, to reveal the cost of its inactivity in the region.
Tommy Beaudreau, BOEM director, said: “BOEM is dedicated to ensuring that the development of the nation’s energy resources is conducted in a safe and environmentally responsible manner. “Our review of BP’s plan included verification of BP’s compliance with the heightened standards that all deepwater activities must meet.”
BP said that the “exact timing for commencement of drilling is subject to approval of the regulator”.
Separately, Fitch ratings agency, on Friday warned that a $13bn lawsuit being pressed against the UK oil group by minority shareholders in TNK-BP, its Russian oil venture, could trigger a review of BP’s A/Stable rating.
The shareholders claim that BP damaged the venture by pursuing its failed strategic alliance with Rosneft, the state oil champion, a claim that the UK oil group dismisses as baseless. Fitch, however, warned nonetheless that “the unpredictable nature of the Russian courts means it is hard ... to predict the length of the case and the resolution itself”.
BP reiterated that it believed the lawsuit to be “baseless” and with no merit. The news came as BP and its Russian billionaire partners in TNK-BP announced they have agreed a new management structure in which Mikhail Fridman, one of the leading Russian shareholders, will remain as chief executive until the end of 2013.
The announcement followed the departure of Maxim Barsky, the deputy chief executive, who stepped down after nearly two years of being groomed for the top job. His appointment had been delayed amid a fresh outbreak of shareholder conflict over BP’s Rosneft plan and there had been concern among the owners over whether he was the right person for the job.
BP and Alfa-Access-Renova said the UK oil group would nominate the successor to Mr Fridman, while the new management structure would attempt to introduce more balance with two BP-nominated executive directors and two AAR-nominated executive directors.
The new structure, said one person familiar with the situation, was the result of several weeks of discussion between the joint venture partners who remain locked in a bitter dispute over BP’s attempt to team up with Russia’s Rosneft earlier this year.
“It’s a practical way forward, a workable solution,” said the person.
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