Environmental Reviews Waived on Halted U.S. Deep Wells

Drilling regulators may not require new environmental reviews for 13 companies that were forced by the U.S. to suspend work on deep-water oil wells after BP Plc’s Gulf of Mexico spill.

The policy change will cover work on 16 wells in the Gulf, the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, Regulation and Enforcement, previously called the Minerals Management Service, said today in an e-mailed statement. The companies must still meet other safeguards put in place in response to the BP spill.

“Going forward, we are substantially enhancing our environmental reviews and analysis,” Michael Bromwich, bureau director, said in a statement. “As we move forward, we are taking into account the special circumstances of those companies whose operations were interrupted by the moratorium and ensuring that they are able to resume previously approved activities.”

Deep-water exploratory drilling was halted after the April 20 blowout of BP’s Macondo well killed 11 workers, injured 17, destroyed Transocean Ltd.’s $365 million Deepwater Horizon rig and spewed crude for 87 days. The five-month suspension, which ended Oct. 12, freed rigs to assist BP’s efforts to stop the worst U.S. offshore spill and let regulators reassess oversight of wells.

The 13 companies won’t be required to revise their exploration plans if an updated estimate of the most oil that would be released in an uncontrolled spill is less than the amount included in spill-response plans on file with the bureau. If the worst-case discharge estimate is higher, “further reviews will be conducted,” according to the statement.

The companies that received today’s notice are: ATP Oil & Gas Corp. BHP Billiton Ltd., Chevron Corp., Cobalt International Energy Inc., Eni SpA, Hess Corp., Kerr-McGee Corp., Marathon Oil Corp., Murphy Oil Corp., Noble Energy Inc., Royal Dutch Shell Plc, Statoil ASA and Walter Oil & Gas Corp., the agency said.

To contact the reporter on this story: Jim Efstathiou Jr. in New York at jefstathiou@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Steve Geimann at sgeimann@bloomberg.net

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