US authorities award permit for first new drills since last year’s oil disaster

Royal Dutch Shell has been awarded a deepwater permit to drill the first new oil wells in the Gulf of Mexico almost a year after the BP spill.

New stringent regulations however require that the environmental impact of each new well is assessed rather than just the field as a whole.

Since the disaster the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, Regulation and Enforcement (BOEMRE) has only granted a minimal number of permits to resume work on existing wells.

Shell plans to drill three new wells to a depth of around 2,950 feet in the seabed 130 miles off the Louisiana coastline. Permits for each well will also be required.

According to Michael Bromwich, director of BOEMRE, its decision to grant Shell a deepwater permit “unmistakably demonstrates that oil and gas exploration can continue responsibly in deep water.”

The US government has been under intense pressure from the oil and gas industry to allow resumption of deepwater drilling in the Gulf Coast. Sharp rises in oil prices and job losses in the region are believed to be the main contributory factors to a relaxation of tight controls – drafted in following last April’s explosion at the Macondo well.

A statement from Shell said the decision by BOEMRE reflects “Shell’s robust and comprehensive approach to responsible offshore development.”