BP drilling again

BP has received approval from the US Bureau of Ocean Energy Management for a supplemental exploration plan in the deepwater Gulf of Mexico, the company’s first such approval since the April 2010 blowout and spill at its Macondo prospect and the 44th plan to get a regulatory nod since the disaster forced a temporary drilling ban and tougher offshore regulations.

The news came just days after the company announced a $4 billion settlement with Anadarko, which held a 25% stake in the Mississippi Canyon block 252 Macondo prospect.

The settlement nullified all claims the companies had filed against each other in the wake of the disaster. Anadarko agreed not to pursue gross negligence claims against BP, which was responsible for the design of the exploration well.

Anadarko will still be eligible for 12.5% of any recoveries from third parties or insurance proceeds exceeding $1.5 billion, up to a total cap of $1 billion. BP agreed to indemnify Anadarko from some claims arising from the Macondo incident. Anadarko could still be subject to civil, criminal or administrative fines and penalties and claims for damages, a prospect that chairman and CEO Jim Hackett said does not pose 'a significant financial risk’ to the company.

BP previously announced settlements with 10% Macondo stakeholder MOEX and with oilfield service company Weatherford, which provided drilling equipment. Legal wrangling continues, however, with rig owner Transocean and Halliburton, which performed cementing services at the well. Earlier in October, the US Interior Department officially charged Transocean and Halliburton, along with BP, of regulatory violations stemming from the event. The violations, which will likely lead to fines, marked the first time that government regulators had issued incident of non-compliance citations directly to contractors that were not the well’s operator.

BP’s approved exploration plan includes a proposal to drill up to four wells in Keathley Canyon blocks 292 and 336, which the company acquired in lease sales in 1997 and 2003. Water depths at the proposed well sites range from 6019ft to 6034ft and are located about 192 miles from the Louisiana coast. Keathley Canyon block 292 holds BP’s Kaskida discovery.

BP must still obtain permits to drill from the Bureau of Safety & Environmental Enforcement, which with BOEM was created with the dissolution of the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, Enforcement & Regulation (OE last month).

At a congressional hearing last month, former BOEMRE director Michael Bromwich said the administration would allow BP to participate in December’s Gulf of Mexico Lease Sale 218. The sale will include some 3900 unleased blocks covering over 20 million acres in the western Gulf. OE

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