U.S. authorities have given the green light to the Anglo-Dutch company’s plan to drill three wells at a depth of about 2,950 feet in a field 130 miles off the coast of Louisiana.
Shell will still be required to apply for specific permits for each well it drills.
The award is significant because the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, Regulation and Enforcement (BOEMRE) has so far only handed out a small number of deepwater permits to resume work on wells on which work had started before last April’s explosion at BP’s Macondo well.
The authorities said on Monday that under new regulations brought in since the spill, Shell had been required to assess the environmental impact of each new well, rather than just the whole field.
The decision to approve the plan “unmistakably demonstrates that oil and gas exploration can continue responsibly in deep water,” insisted Michael Bromwich, the director of BOEMRE.
The White House has faced intense pressure to allow the resumption of deepwater drilling in the Gulf from the oil and gas industry, which claims thousands of jobs have already been lost. A moratorium on deepwater drilling, which was imposed in the weeks after the fatal explosion, was lifted a month early. A sharp rise in the oil price in the wake of upheaval in North Africa and the Middle East has only added to those calls for a resumption of drilling.
Shell said that the decision by authorities reflects “Shell’s robust and comprehensive approach to responsible offshore development.”
There are currently 13 exploration other plans that the BOEMRE is reviewing. However, the decision by authorities is likely to cause unease among critics who claim that BP’s spill showed that containing and cleaning up a spill quickly is beyond the ability of the industry.