Eighteen months after the company’s Macondo well blowout killed eleven and spawned a huge oil spill, BP is on track to re-enter the Gulf of Mexico as an exploration and development company. On Friday, the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM, a division of the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, Regulation and Enforcement – BOEMRE) approved the first BP drilling plan submitted since the Deepwater Horizon incident in April, 2010. The approval is for BP’s Kaskida prospect in an area some 200 miles off the Louisiana coast in the Keathley Canyon block, which allows the company to drill seven wells in the area. A five-well plan submitted by the company in 2008 had already been approved; the new version calls for two additional wells and re-locates two previously-approved wells.
BOEM director Tommy P. Beaudreau stated that the agency’s “…review of BP’s plan included verification of BPO’s compliance with the heightened standards that all deepwater activities must meet.” According to Beaudreau’s official statement, BP voluntarily carried out “additional safety enhancements and performance standards” for Gulf exploration projects. A statement from BP suggested that BP would implement voluntary safety standards that “exceed current government requirements.” Earlier this month, BP was granted permission to bid on lease tracts in the December Gulf of Mexico lease sale,
The Kaskida prospect lies in roughly 6000 feet of water; more than 1000 feet deeper than Macondo. BP owns a 100-percent stake in Kaskida after the company bought Devon’s 30 percent in a multibillion-dollar deal just a month before the Macondo blowout. BP is also a minority partner in a number of other deep-water projects, including Tubular Bells field (operated by Hess), and holds a 60-percent share of Mad Dog South. Minority partner BHP Billiton has continued developing the latter field in the past year. BP also has yet to begin development of Tiber, a deep-water natural gas field it discovered in early 2010.
BP’s plan is the 44th approved by BOEMRE since the agency re-opened the Gulf to exploration earlier this year. Operators in the Gulf, howwever, continue to complain that the pace of permitting is slowed by the new regulatory system enacted as a result of the Macondo spill, the largest in recorded history. As part of the approval process, BP must provide a mitigation plan for blowouts and other incidents such as occurred at Macondo. In addition to describing containment devices and systems such as those developed for and after Macondo, the company estimates that drilling a relief well such as that used for the final “bottom kill” at Macondo would take up to 184 days.