BP Pushes Back Libya Exploration


LONDON—U.K. oil giant BP PLC has pushed back the start of its exploration for oil in deep water offshore Libya for an unspecified period of time to ensure all its plans are in order, but the company and the Libyan authorities insist the drilling will be safe.

BP said it will proceed with its first deep water well offshore Libya some time later this year. However, amid fears in Europe that an accident similar to the oil leak in the Gulf of Mexico could trigger an ecological disaster in the Mediterranean, the company said it was prepared to mount a quick response to a large oil spill, should one occur.

BP and the Libyan authorities have the resources to deal with a medium-size spill and should a larger incident occur BP has a contract with the world’s biggest oil spill response center, based in Southampton, in the U.K., said company spokesman Robert Wine. “We would call them if they were needed in Libya,” he said.

BP has pulled back from plans to drill the first Libyan well “within weeks,” a time frame that was still in place as recently as July. “We were saying a few weeks ago we would start earlier, but making checks and preparations and carrying out tests on the drilling plan and equipment has delayed it,” said Mr. Wine. “We are being thorough and making sure everything is in order before we start.”

BP didn’t directly link the delay to the disaster in the Gulf of Mexico, but the company plans to publish preliminary findings of its internal investigation into the blowout on the Macondo well in late August. Any lessons from that inquiry will be applied to all international operations, said BP spokesman David Nicholas.

The chairman of Libya’s National Oil Co., Shokri Ghanem, said BP’s operations will have strong oversight.

“We continually follow-up with companies and we are certain before allowing any companies to start drilling onshore or offshore the environmental procedures are followed exactly so that damage to the environment is avoided,” said Ghanem. “Libya has well defined rules and regulations and there are severe consequences for international oil companies that do not follow them.” Despite these assurances, BP’s plans to drill at least five wells in the Libya’s Gulf of Sirte at depths greater than Macondo have some people worried. Stefania Prestigiacomo, Italy’s environment minister, told the Financial Times earlier this month that plans for deep water drilling in the Mediterranean, “give rise to serious concern.”

“A moratorium could be a right approach for potentially dangerous drilling…to give Europe time to define a new and specific strategy for the Mediterranean especially in light of the risk exposed by the Deepwater Horizon spill,” Ms. Prestigiacomo told the paper.

BP’s plans have also drawn fire from U.S. senators, who are investigating links between the company’s lobbying of the U.K. government for a prisoner transfer agreement with Libya and the Scottish government’s 2009 release of Abdel Baset Al-Megrahi, the Libyan man convicted of the 1988 bombing of Pan Am Flight 103 that killed 270 people.

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Stuart H. Smith is an attorney based in New Orleans fighting major oil companies and other polluters.
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