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Environment

Six months on, Gulf of Mexico could see new drilling

The US government lifted a moratorium on deepwater drilling in the Gulf of Mexico earlier this month. Now, six months after April's massive oil spill, one company is planning to seek permits for new projects in the area.

A deepwater rig was brought to port due to the moratorium

With the moratorium lifted, companies can apply for new drill permits

The Gulf of Mexico is seeing renewed interest as a drilling destination: On Thursday, US oil giant Chevron said it intended to apply for permission in the coming days to develop fresh projects there.

A spokesman for the company said it plans to invest $7.5 billion in a pair of new fields in waters off the coast of Louisiana.

The move would make Chevron among the first to seek permits for new drilling projects in the Gulf of Mexico, half a year after the Deepwater Horizon oil rig exploded on April 20.

Chevron could be among the first oil companies to exploit the end of a drilling moratorium, introduced by the Obama administration in May when it faced public pressure for reacting to slowly to the environmental crisis.

Large amounts of oil washed up on the beach in Alabama

The oil spill was the worst environmental disaster in US history

Competing pressures

The drilling freeze applied to both new and current projects but was lifted on October 13 – several weeks before it was set to expire – amid pressure from oil companies and state governments concerned about productivity and jobs.

According to a government report, up to 12,000 jobs were lost due to the moratorium, a bitter pill to swallow as the country struggles with persistent high unemployment in a year of midterm elections.

US environmental advocacy groups have condemned the end of the moratorium, saying the risks of drilling remain too high.

Six months after the Deepwater Horizon oil rig exploded – setting off the worst environmental disaster in US history and leaving 11 people dead – more than 16,000 specialists and volunteers are still working to cleanup the spill's environmental effects.

British energy giant BP spent months trying to stop oil from leaking into the gulf – launching multiple failed "kill" operations to plug the blown-out wellhead.

They only succeeded in early August, when engineers filled the well with heavy drilling mud and cement, after millions of liters of oil had already leaked into the Gulf.

The Deepwater Horizon oil platform burns

An explosion occurred on the Deepwater Horizon oil rig on April 20

Rules and regulations

Oil and gas drilling projects are now subject to stricter regulations. US Interior Secretary Ken Salazar said in a telephone press conference that they are meant to ensure safe energy generation.

"We are building the gold standard for offshore oil and gas regulation," he said.

In future, corporations will be required to prove that their oil rigs are equipped with working cut-off valves. In addition, they must conform to specific construction standards. Oil rig workers will also be subject to special safety trainings.

Regulators – who came in for heavy criticism for their coziness with the industry they were supposed to monitor – have been reformed.

The former Minerals Management Service has been changed to the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, and the agency has been subject to new ethics guidelines since late August.

Author: Nicole Markwald, Amanda Price (AP, AFP)
Editor: Nathan Witkop

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