WASHINGTON — The Interior Department on Wednesday approved BP’s first deepwater drilling permit since last year’s Deepwater Horizon disaster.
In approving the permit, the department’s Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement said the company had addressed all the failures exposed in the Deepwater Horizon rig explosion on April 20, 2010, which killed 11 men and resulted in the discharge of 4.9 million barrels of oil into the Gulf of Mexico.
In addition to meeting new federal drilling regulations, the voluntary improvements include solidifying the subsea blowout preventer that failed to block a surge of gas to the surface suspected of causing the blast.
The company also will get third-party verification that their operation is safe and enhance the testing of cement in the wells, also suspected of allowing the gas to seep up to the rig floor.
“BP has met all the safety requirements that we have implemented and applied consistently over the past year,” said BSEE Director Michael Bromwich. “In addition, BP has adhered to voluntary standards that go beyond the agency’s regulatory requirements.”
The 6,000-foot-deep exploratory well will be drilled in the Gulf about 246 miles south of Lafayette.
In a statement, BP said the permit was approved after several months of “hard work” developing and implementing new drilling standards.
The permit “is another milestone in our steady return to safely drilling in the Gulf of Mexico,” BP said in its statement.
Last month, the Interior Department, in conjunction with the U.S. Coast Guard, released its findings from its probe into the disaster. The agencies concluded that BP cut corners to save time and money.
Environmental groups on Wednesday said the company’s return to drilling in the Gulf is too soon.
“Clearly it’s troubling when BP’s oil is still in our marshes,” said Aaron Viles of the Gulf Restoration Network. “We’re unsure of whether they’ve really learned their lesson.”
Gulf state representatives in Congress have criticized the Obama administration for failing to issue permits in a pace similar to before the catastrophe, saying other companies should not be penalized for BP’s mistakes.
Today the company is taking 250,000 barrels per day from below the waters, BP said.
The Obama administration is caving to pressure aimed at getting Gulf drilling back to normal, Viles said.
“They’re doing everything to make sure it’s business as usual,” Viles said. “And that’s what we’re afraid of, that it’s going to be business as usual.”