U.S. approves 10th post-ban deep-water drilling project

The federal government today gave Statoil permission to drill a deep-water well — marking the tenth such project approved since the Obama administration halted such work in the wake of last year’s Gulf spill.

Under the permit, Statoil will be allowed to drill a new well in 7,813 feet of water in its Logan prospect, about 219 miles off the Louisiana shoreline, south of Houma, La. The well is located in Walker Ridge Block 969. Statoil is slated to drill the well with the Discoverer Americas, a Transocean drillship now en route back to the Gulf of Mexico from Egyptian waters.

In a sign that the government now considers the approval of deep-water drilling projects routine, the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, Regulation and Enforcement said it would no longer highlight the permit approvals in news releases.

“Permit applications that satisfy our more rigorous safety and environmental standards and that demonstrate the necessary containment capabilities will be approved; those that do not will be rejected,” said Michael Bromwich, the BOEMRE director. “That has been our approach and will continue to be our approach.”

Statoil was close to beginning the well last year, when the Obama administration imposed the ban on most deep-water exploration. The Norwegian company had a rig under contract and an approved drilling permit when that moratorium started.

Because Statoil’s well is one of 57 deep-water drilling projects that was approved before the ban, it faced fewer hurdles to restarting. Unlike new drilling proposals — submitted since last year’s spill — the previously permitted projects are not subject to stepped-up environmental reviews.

This is the second deep-water project Statoil has gotten approved. The company also won approval for a well in its Cobra prospect 216 miles south of Texas City on March 25.

Although Statoil initially contracted with the Houston-based Helix Well Containment Group to respond to any blowout at the Cobra project, it has contracted the Marine Well Containment Company for the new Logan prospect well.

If you’ve lost track of the deep-water permits issued in the past two months, we’ve got you covered. Fifteen permits have been issued for 10 deep-water projects blocked by last year’s ban. Here’s a rundown: