BP is back – back in the Gulf of Mexico, that is. Wednesday, the federal government issued the international oil giant its first drilling permit since the company’s Macondo well blew out in 5,000 feet of water in April, 2010. That incident killed eleven, spawned the largest oil spill in U. S. history, and sent a drillship worth more than half a billion dollars to the bottom.
Like other permit applicants before it, BP was required to detail not just the company’s plan for preventing another Macondo-like blowout, but also provide a plan to contain and mitigate any spill that might result. Federal regulators at the Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement (BSEE) issued the permit to drill at the company’s Kaskida field, about 200 miles off the Louisiana coastline in the Keathley Canyon block. The permitted site is in 6,034 feet of water, some 1,000 feet deeper than the Macondo site. With permit in hand, BP could be ready to begin drilling at the site in the next few weeks.
Last week the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM) approved a seven-well development plan for Kaskida, which was discovered in 2006 by a wildcat well drilled from the Deepwater Horizon. BP’s Houston-based Gulf operations unit estimates that the field contains up to 3 billion barrels of crude, making it one of the company’s largest discoveries ever in U. S. waters. After buying out Devon’s 30% stake in the field last year, BP now holds 100% interest in Kaskida.
BP’s drilling and emergency plans exceed federal requirements, including such details as the installation of double shear rams on the well’s blowout preventer – the critical equipment whose failure is alleged to have contributed to the Macondo disaster. The company also filed a disaster plan, a key detail of which is the estimated 184 days needed to drill a relief well.
Despite federal regulators’ satisfaction with BP’s drilling and safety plan, some members of Congress and many environmentalists remain opposed to re-entry of the Gulf of Mexico by BP. Representative Ed Markey (D, MA), a ranking member of the House Natural Resources Committee that oversees offshore exploration and production, suggests that BP should be barred from the Gulf until the company has paid any penalties owed for the Macondo spill. Nevertheless, BP has remained active in the offshore Gulf as a non-operating partner at several fields, including fields operated by Houston-based Hess and Australian oil and mining giant BHP Billiton.