BP builds its largest-ever Gulf of Mexico fleet (photos)

HOUSTON — Three years after the Deepwater Horizon disaster, BP has built up its largest fleet ever in the Gulf of Mexico, adding two drilling rigs in recent weeks to its U.S. offshore operations, the company said Tuesday.

The two rigs boosted BP’s Gulf fleet to nine, following two others added in late 2012. BP contracted Seadrill’s new ultradeep-water drillship, the West Auriga, which is working in BP’s Thunder Horse field. The second facility is BP’s Mad Dog platform, which was damaged when Hurricane Ike swept through the Gulf in 2008. It has been repaired and has restarted operations in the Mad Dog field.

It’s another sign the skies are clearing over the Gulf, where BP’s blown out Macondo well spilled millions of barrels of oil into the ocean and the federal government instituted a three-month drilling moratorium on some deep-water operations in 2010.

The two new rigs reflect “the vital importance of the deep-water Gulf of Mexico to the future of BP,” Richard Morrison, the company’s regional president for the Gulf, said in a written statement.

Every year for the next decade, the British oil giant plans to spend about $4 billion on its deep-water fields in the Gulf. And it’s working to ramp up operations in several fields including the Atlantis North and the Na Kika, the company said.

As international oil giants dip back into the Gulf, the region’s daily production could rise by 180,000 barrels to 1.55 million barrels next year. And in three years, the Gulf could beat its 2009 peak production of 1.8 million barrels per day, according to research firm Wood Mackenzie.