Federal government approves first deep-water drilling permit in Gulf

After over eight months of no deep-water drilling in the Gulf of Mexico, the U.S. has approved the first permit for deep-water drilling in the region.

The Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, Regulation and Enforcement announced Monday that Noble Energy Inc. was issued a permit to continue work on well about 70 miles southeast of Venice, La.

Noble began drilling the well four days before the Deepwater Horizon well exploded. Drilling activity was suspended on June 12 under a moratorium the U.S. placed on exploration in waters deeper than 500 feet. When the moratorium was lifted in October many thought it wouldn't be long before it would be business as usual in the Gulf, but no new permits were issued. The U.S. has approved 37 other drilling permits since lifting the moratorium, but they were all in shallow water.

Regulators began feeling increased pressure from the oil industry and lawmakers alike to get drilling projects started again in the Gulf while ensure that new safeguards were in place.

Noble received its permit after demonstrating it is capable of containing a well blowout, according to Director Michael Bromwich. The company contracted 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.

A consortium led by Exxon Mobil Corp. is offering another emergency containment solution as announced earlier this month.

"We expect further deep-water permits to be approved in the coming weeks and months based on the same process that led to the approval of this permit," said Bromwich.

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