LONDON - BP PLC has been given its first permit to drill a deepwater well off the northwest coast of Scotland's remote Shetland Islands since the Deepwater Horizon disaster two years ago, although the decision announced Thursday raised the heckles of environmental campaigners who claim the oil heavyweight's track record is cause for alarm.
The decision by the Department of Energy and Climate Change to grant BP permission to drill the 1,290-meter-deep North Uist well comes only a day after U.K. Chancellor of the Exchequer George Osborne delivered a package of incentives to spur investment in exploring the hard-to-access waters of the far western North Sea.
However, the specter of deepwater exploration in the rough seas of Scotland has provoked the ire of some groups, including Greenpeace, who say that less than two years after Gulf of Mexico oil spill serious questions remain over BP's ability to safely drill this type of well.
"This government is taking a huge risk to both Scotland's fragile natural environment, and its economy, in granting a licence to BP, one of the most accident-prone oil companies in the world, to drill in the deep waters off the Shetland coast," said Charlie Kronick, senior oil campaigner at Greenpeace.
BP earlier this month agreed to a $7.8 billion settlement with individuals and businesses harmed by the 2010 Deepwater Horizon disaster, when a BP-leased drilling rig exploded, killing 11 and setting off the worst offshore oil spill U.S. history. Meanwhile, a recent oil spill in Brazil from a Chevron-operated well has prompted a criminal investigation and reignited a debate about whether the rewards from this riskier type of exploration are worth the risk.
The government said it conducted a thorough examination of BP's drilling application, which included an environmental impact assessment and emergency response plan, and had no objections to the company's proposals. Energy Minister Charles Hendry said his department was satisfied with BP's risk planning, saying it had "carefully scrutinized" their response measures to ensure the firm's operations would be "conducted to the highest possible standards."
BP, which has overhauled many of its deepwater drilling protocols in the wake of the Gulf of Mexico spill, said safety was its "absolute priority." The company in June announced a set of enhanced deepwater drilling standards aimed at preventing another failed blowout preventer, a key safety device that was supposed to seal off the well in the 2010 incident.
"BP has applied lessons learnt from the Deepwater Horizon accident to its drilling organization and capabilities worldwide, and is applying them fully to the planning and drilling of the North Uist well," said a BP spokesman, pointing out that the Stena Carron drillship assigned to the North Uist well has been equipped with a new blowout preventer configured to meet the firm's new standards.
Copyright (c) 2012 Dow Jones & Company, Inc.
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