Obama Admin. Approves BP’s Plans to Drill in Gulf of Mexico

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On Friday, the Obama administration approved BP’s first plan to drill oil in the Gulf of Mexico since the April 2010 explosion that killed 11 workers at the company’s Deepwater Horizon rig.

The approval by the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM) came despite the fact that BP is the subject of an ongoing criminal investigation and was recently cited by the Department of the Interior for numerous safety and environmental violations in the Deepwater Horizon explosion.

“It shows that BP’s record in the gulf and across the country didn’t really have any bearing in the government’s decision to permit its plans,” said Abrahm Lustgarten, who has extensively covered the gulf spill for ProPublica and whose forthcoming book Run to Failure goes behind the scenes of the disaster. Lustgarden and ProPublica contributed reporting to our 2010 film, The Spill.

But BP does not currently warrant special scrutiny or attention, BOEM deputy director Walter Cruickshank told Lusgarten on a panel at the Society of Environmental Journalists Conference on Friday. Until there is a conviction that affects its eligibility, the criteria to evaluate BP’s qualifications will be the same as any other operator, Cruickshank explained.

BOEM approved BP’s plan to drill up to four exploratory wells nearly 200 miles from the coast of Louisiana after the bureau completed a “site-specific environmental assessment” of the activities in the plan.

“Our review of BP’s plan included verification of BP’s compliance with the heightened standards that all deepwater activities must meet,” said Tommy Beaudreau, BOEM’s director, in a statement. The statement also referenced “additional safety enhancements and performance standards” that BP announced in July it would voluntarily implement related to its deepwater drilling in the Gulf of Mexico

But the approval has come under fire by some members of Congress.

“Comprehensive safety legislation hasn’t passed Congress, and BP hasn’t paid the fines they owe for their spill, yet BP is being given back the keys to drill in the gulf,” said Rep. Edward J. Markey, (D-Mass.) of the House Natural Resources Committee.

Before it can begin any drilling under the plan, BP must obtain drilling permits from the Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement (BSEE), which will “continue to assess the information that is necessary to allow specific activities.”

Bonus: BP’s Troubled Past: Investigative reporting and documents — some never before published — on major incidents at BP facilities over the past decade that grabbed headlines and raised questions about the company’s record and the government’s oversight.

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