BP has asked U.S. regulators for permission to resume drilling in the Gulf of Mexico, two company officials with direct knowledge of the application said on Sunday, creating a delicate situation for the Obama administration as it seeks to balance safety concerns with a desire to increase domestic oil production.
The petition comes less than 12 months after a rig BP had leased there exploded, causing a huge oil spill and killing 11 workers. The accident tarnished BP’s image and raised questions about its safety procedures.
Just last week, the Justice Department confirmed that it was considering a range of civil and criminal penalties against BP, including potential manslaughter charges for the deaths of the rig workers, as part of its ongoing investigation into the accident.
At the same time, President Barack Obama, in a major statement on energy policy last week, said the administration was seeking to reduce dependence on imported oil in part by increasing domestic production, both onshore and off. BP was one of the major producers in the gulf before the accident.
BP is seeking permission to continue drilling at 10 existing deepwater production and development wells in the region in July in exchange for adhering to stricter safety and supervisory rules, said one of the officials. An agreement covering existing wells could be reached within the next month but would not include new drilling, the official said.
The other official said, “We’re making progress but it’s not a yes yet.” Both people spoke on the condition of anonymity because talks on a possible agreement were continuing.
Drilling in the Gulf of Mexico was halted last summer as a result of the accident involving BP’s Macondo well, which spilled 4.9 million barrels of oil into the ocean. The ban was lifted in October.
Melissa Schwartz, a spokeswoman for the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, Regulation and Enforcement, the federal agency that overseas the development of resources in the gulf, said on Sunday that there was no deal with BP. Toby Odone, a spokesman for BP, declined to comment.
The administration has pressed BP to ensure that victims of the spill are compensated, but the company has said publicly it needs to resume drilling in the gulf in order to have the financial resources to pay the claims submitted by federal and state officials, and individuals and businesses.
Read the full story atThe New York Times.