Noble Energy Wins First U.S. Deep-Water Oil-Drilling Permit

Noble Energy Inc. won the first U.S. deep-water drilling permit in the Gulf of Mexico since BP Plc’s oil spill 10 months ago, and regulators said they expect to approve more applications.

The Obama administration halted deep-water exploration after BP Plc’s Macondo well exploded in the Gulf of Mexico in April, causing the biggest U.S. offshore oil spill. The top U.S. drilling regulator said today that Houston-based Noble Energy was the first company to meet new requirements for safety and spill control.

“The application has met our new standards for well design, casing and cementing,’” Michael R. Bromwich, director of the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, Regulation and Enforcement, said on a conference call with reporters today. More permit approvals are expected in “coming weeks or months,” the bureau said in a statement.

Oil industry executives, lawmakers and officials from Gulf states had criticized the administration’s drilling delay, saying thousands of jobs in the region were at stake.

“Today’s action sends a calming signal to operators, producers and service companies that the long drought is just about over,” Randall Luthi, the president of the National Ocean Industries Association, said in an e-mailed statement. “This decision offers hope that the United States is getting back in the energy and jobs market.”

Noble Energy began drilling its well 70 miles (113 kilometers) southeast of Venice, Louisiana, on April 16, four days before the BP blowout. The company stopped when drilling was suspended by the administration on June 12. Noble’s well is in the Mississippi Canyon, in the same area as BP’s.

Noble’s Response

Noble Energy rose $3.47, or 3.9 percent, to $92.66 at 4:15 p.m. in New York Stock Exchange composite trading, the biggest increase since Jan. 31 and the highest price since July 3, 2008.

“Noble Energy is proud to help lead the industry back to drilling in the deep-water Gulf,” David Stover, the company’s president and chief operating officer, said in a statement. Drilling is expected to resume in late March, the company said.

The company plans to use a containment system developed by Helix Energy Solutions Group Inc. in case of a well explosion.

Helix, which provided vessels that responded to the BP disaster, is able to collect 10,000 barrels of oil a day and cap a well in water as deep as 5,600 feet, Cameron Wallace, a Helix spokesman, said today. Noble Energy will combine this with its own equipment to drill in 6,500 feet of water, according to Bromwich.

Among other energy producers, Royal Dutch Shell Plc plans three exploratory wells in about 2,950 feet of water, 130 miles off the Louisiana coast.

Bromwich didn’t specify today which companies were likely to win the next permits.