U.S. Allows Some to Resume Gulf Drilling


"Path cleared for 13 firms to resume work on wells already underway."

Deepwater drilling in the Gulf of Mexico could resume within weeks under a policy announced Monday by the Obama administration, which has come under increasing criticism from the oil industry and politicians in the region over the impact of the drilling halt.

Oil and gas exploration in the Gulf's deep waters has been stopped since May, when President Obama announced a six-month drilling moratorium in the wake of the April explosion of the Deepwater Horizon drilling rig, which killed 11 workers and set off the worst offshore oil spill in U.S. history.

The administration lifted the ban in Octoberóa month ahead of scheduleóbut hasn't issued any permits for new deepwater oil wells. On Monday, it said would clear the path for 13 companies to resume work on a handful of wells that were already approved and underway when the moratorium took effect. The 16 projects must comply with strict new safety rules announced after BP's Gulf disaster, but in most cases won't be subjected to new environmental reviews.

Some drilling could resume in a matter of weeks, though the exact timing remains unclear. But the policy doesn't affect the more than a dozen permit requests that were pending when the moratorium took effect or which have been filed since. Those must still undergo enhanced environmental reviews.

Michael Bromwich, director of the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, Regulation and Enforcement, the newly formed federal agency in charge of offshore drilling, said projects that were interrupted by the moratorium deserved special consideration.

"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," Mr. Bromwich said in a statement.

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