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US lets some companies resume Gulf drilling

by Staff Writers
Washington (AFP) Jan 3, 2011
Thirteen oil companies have been authorized to resume deepwater drilling in the Gulf of Mexico without submitting new plans for environmental review, the US Department of the Interior said Monday.

But the companies will still have to comply with tougher safety rules on offshore drilling that were put in place last year to try to avoid a repeat of the April 2010 accident on a BP rig, which killed 11 workers and sparked a massive oil spill, the Interior Department said.

Companies that were already drilling in the Gulf when a deepwater moratorium was imposed may be allowed to resume their activities without submitting new exploration or development plans for scrutiny.

"We are taking into account the special circumstances of those companies whose operations were interrupted by the moratorium and ensuring that they are able to resume previously approved activities," Michael Bromwich, director of the Bureau of Ocean Energy Mangement, Regulation and Enforcement (BOEMRE) said.

"For those companies that were in the midst of operations at the time of the deepwater suspensions, today's notification is a significant step toward resuming their permitted activity," he said.

The BOEMRE is the Interior Department agency responsible for overseeing the safe and environmentally responsible development of offshore energy and mineral resources on the US outer continental shelf.

The 13 companies the BOEMRE notified are ATP Oil and Gas, BHP Billiton Petroleum, Chevron USA, Cobalt International Energy, ENI US, Hess, Kerr-McGee Oil and Gas, Marathon Oil, Murphy - USA, Noble Energy, Shell Offshore, Statoil, and Walter Oil and Gas.

The ban on deepwater drilling was lifted in October, five months after it had been imposed to allow the Interior Department and an expert panel commissioned by President Barack Obama to craft new safety rules for offshore drilling.

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