Reports of BP resuming Gulf drilling a 'misconcepton'

Deepwater Horizon oil rig on fire
Image caption The Deepwater Horizon rig explosion last April caused the US's worst environmental disaster

US interior secretary Ken Salazar has rejected claims that BP has reached an agreement to restart drilling for oil in the Gulf of Mexico.

Media reports have said that the UK oil giant will resume work in July at 10 sites in the Gulf.

Mr Salazar told reporters on Monday: "There is no such agreement, nor would there be such an agreement."

But BBC business editor Robert Peston understands BP has been told privately it should be able to resume soon.

Last April an explosion at BP's Deepwater Horizon rig killed 15 workers and caused the US's worst environmental disaster.

The issue of whether to allow BP to resume work is sensitive for the company and the Obama administration as the oil spill is still fresh in the minds of Gulf communities and environmental groups.

Britain's Sunday Times newspaper, followed by the Financial Times, said that BP had reached an agreement to restart work.

The US Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, which hands out drilling permits, was swift to respond, saying that "there is no such deal".

Now Mr Salazar has added his weight, saying that the reports are a "misconception". BP has declined to comment.

BP would like to restart work on 10 existing wells, all in deep water locations.

The company's rivals have been given permission to resume drilling on existing operations. New deep water explorations are still banned.

Metal deal

Meanwhile, BP has announced that it has agreed to sell Arco Aluminum, a supplier of rolled aluminium sheet used mainly in the production of drink cans, to a consortium of Japanese companies for $680m (£420m) in cash.

BP is hoping to raise $30bn from disposals by the end of 2011 to help pay for the clean-up and compensation for the Deepwater Horizon disaster.

The company has already agreed deals worth a total of more than $24bn.

BP's chief executive, Bob Dudley, said in a statement: "Although a strong business, Arco Aluminum is clearly a non-strategic asset for BP. Today's agreement will deliver an attractive price for the business, unlocking its value for our shareholders."

Later on Monday, BP returns to an arbitration tribunal as part of a continuing dispute with shareholders in its Russian joint venture, TNK-BP.

The shareholders, known as AAR, are trying to block a share-swap and Arctic exploration pact between BP and Russia's Rosneft.

AAR has already blocked the exploration deal, and now wants to block the share swap, arguing that it breaches a pre-existing TNK-BP agreement.

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