WASHINGTON // The United States lifted a ban on deepwater drilling in the Gulf of Mexico imposed after the BP oil spill, but set operators tough new safety conditions, officials said.
"We have decided it is now appropriate to lift the suspension on deepwater drilling for those operators that are able to clear the higher bar that we have set" for safety, Interior Secretary Ken Salazar said.
The ban was lifted some six weeks ahead of the November 30 deadline when it had been due to expire.
Salazar said the new rules, which were laid out by the Interior Department two weeks ago, toughen up companies' obligations on drilling and workplace safety, well containment and spill response.
They were crafted in the wake of the blowout on a BP deepwater exploratory well that sparked the worst oil disaster in US history, the effects of which are still being felt in Gulf Coast states. Key among the new rules is an obligation for the CEO of any company wishing to drill in deep water to "certify that the rig has complied with all new and existing rules," said Salazar.
But deepwater drilling activity was not expected to resume soon, said Michael Bromwich, Director of the Bureau Ocean Energy Management, Regulation and Enforcement. Oil and gas companies need time to implement the new rules and submit applications for deepwater permits, "and it will obviously take us time to review those applications," said Bromwich.
The bosses of the companies involved in the BP-leased well that blew out in April, killing 11 rig workers, have blamed each other for the accident which happened some 50 miles (80 kilometers) off the coast of Louisiana.