US greenlights first Gulf of Mexico drilling since BP disaster

The US government yesterday awarded its first permit for deepwater drilling in the Gulf of Mexico since the BP oil disaster last year. Noble Energy has received to go-ahead to […]

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By Kelvin Ross

The US government yesterday awarded its first permit for deepwater drilling in the Gulf of Mexico since the BP oil disaster last year.

Noble Energy has received to go-ahead to resume drilling at the Santiago prospect in the deepwater Gulf of Mexico.

Operations were suspended in June last year following the explosion on the BP-leased Deepwater Horizon which killed 11 workers and poured more than 205 million gallons of oil into the Gulf of Mexico.

Located in 6,500 feet of water, the Santiago exploration well had previously drilled to a depth of 13,585 feet. Drilling is expected to resume later this month, targeting a total depth of approximately 19,000 feet.

Yesterday, Michael Bromwich, who heads the Interior Department’s Bureau of Ocean Energy, said the permit for Noble was “a significant milestone” for Gulf operations.

He added: “Noble Energy’s application has met the requirements of our new safety regulations and information requirements. This means among other things that Noble Energy has met new requirements to show that it is prepared to deal with a potential blowout and potential for a worst-case discharge scenario.”

Noble Energy’s president David Stover said: “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. Noble Energy is proud to help lead the industry back to drilling in the deepwater Gulf.”

As well as drilling on-and offshore in the US, Noble also has operations in the Mediterranean and West Africa.

In the UK, the government took steps to reassure both the public and investors that a disaster of the scale of the Deepwater Horizon could not happen in British waters.

Energy Minister Charles Hendry told the House of Commons that the UK “now has all the containment devices needed to deal with such an incident”.

He said that the regulatory safety regime already in place – which was born out of the Piper Alpha tragedy 22 years ago – was robust, and added that he believed the rest of Europe should upgrade its offshore regimes to come in line with the UK standard.