US grants first deepwater drill permit since Gulf spill

The Deepwater Horizon rig burns in the Gulf of Mexico in April US investigators have said decisions made to cut costs contributed to the Deepwater Horizon disaster

The US has granted the first new permit for deepwater oil drilling in the Gulf of Mexico since last year's spill at a BP-owned oil well there.

In a statement, a US official said Noble Energy had demonstrated it could safely drill a well 70 miles (113km) off the Louisiana coast.

The well is situated 6,500ft (1,981m) under the Gulf of Mexico.

The April blast aboard BP's Deepwater Horizon rig killed 11 people and caused one of the worst oil spills in history.

The US had approved 37 permits for shallow water drilling since new safety measures were put in place in June.

'Important step'

"This permit represents a significant milestone for us and for the offshore oil and gas industry, and is an important step towards safely developing deepwater energy supplies offshore," said Michael Bromwich, director of the US Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, Regulation and Enforcement.

"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 blowout if it were to occur."

Mr Bromwich said regulators anticipated granting further permits for deepwater drilling.

Noble Energy, of Houston, Texas, said previous work on the well had been suspended in June when the US put a moratorium on drilling in waters deeper than 500ft. It said it expected to resume work in March.

"Over the past several months, Noble Energy has worked with a number of operators and service providers to enhance the safety of deepwater drilling operations," company president David Stover said in a statement.

The moratorium on deepwater exploration was lifted in October.

The BP-owned Macondo well, about a mile under the Gulf of Mexico's surface, eventually leaked millions of gallons of oil into the Gulf, damaging hundreds of miles of coastline before it was capped in July.

The leak occurred after a heavy piece of kit called a blow-out preventer failed to halt the oil gushing from beneath the sea floor.

US investigators have said a combination of decisions the companies involved in the drilling operation made to cut costs and save time contributed to the disaster.

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