NEW YORK (AP) — The U.S. has approved the first deep-water drilling permit in the Gulf of Mexico since last year's massive oil spill.
The Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, Regulation and Enforcement announced Monday that it issued a permit to Noble Energy Inc. to continue work on a well about 70 miles (112 kilometers) southeast of Venice, Louisiana.
Noble started drilling the well four days before the Deepwater Horizon exploded. Drilling activity was suspended on June 12 under a moratorium the U.S. placed on exploration in waters deeper than 500 feet (152 meters).
No new deepwater permits had been issued since the moratorium was lifted in October. Regulators have been under pressure from the oil industry and some lawmakers to get drilling projects started again in the Gulf while ensuring that new safeguards were in place.
Director Michael Bromwich said that regulators approved the permit after the company demonstrated it is capable of containing a well blowout. Noble contracted with the Helix Well Containment Group to use its emergency capping stack to stop the flow of oil in case it loses control of a well.
Another emergency containment solution, offered by a consortium led by Exxon Mobil Corp., was announced earlier this month.
"We expect further deepwater permits to be approved in coming weeks and months based on the same process that led to the approval of this permit," Bromwich said.
The U.S. has approved 37 other drilling permits, all of them in shallow water, since the moratorium was lifted.
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