March 1, 2011

First Post-Oil Spill Deepwater Drilling Permit Approved

A Houston-based energy company has been awarded a permit for deepwater drilling in the Gulf of Mexico--the first handed out by the US government since the lifting of a moratorium imposed in the wake of the Deepwater Horizon disaster, various media outlets are reporting.

Noble Energy had applied for a permit to bypass for a well located some 70 miles southeast of Venice, Louisiana, the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, Regulation and Enforcement (BOEMRE) said in a Monday press release.

According to the Associated Press (AP), the company had begun drilling on the well just four days before the explosion onboard the BP-leased oil rig, which resulted in 11 deaths and would ultimately lead to one of the largest environmental disasters of its kind.

"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," BOEMRE Director Michael R. Bromwich said in a statement.

"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," he added. "We expect further deepwater permits to be approved in coming weeks and months based on the same process that led to the approval of this permit."

Noble Energy "spent two months drilling to a depth of 13,585 feet before it was forced to plug the well under the moratorium," Jennifer A. Dlouhy of the Houston Chronicle reported Monday. "The bypass drilling in 6,500 feet of water is meant to get around the plugs in the original well."

Dlouhy added that drilling was expected to start in late March and reach a target depth of 19,000 feet.

Bromwich told AFP reporters that there were currently seven permits pending, and that all applications would be judged on "a well-by-well basis."

Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal told the French news agency that the awarding of the permit was a "good first step," but added that government officials "must quickly get to a level of issuing permits that represents a critical mass so thousands of oil and gas industry workers can get back to work fueling America again."


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