The Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, Regulation and Enforcement announced this week the issuance of the first offshore drilling permit in the Gulf of Mexico since the Deepwater Horizon oil rig explosion last year. On Monday, the agency issued the permit to Noble Energy Inc. The permit allows the company to continue drilling work on its Santiago well, which is about 70 miles southeast of Venice, Louisiana. The company had begun drilling the well just four days before April 20, when the Deepwater Horizon oil rig exploded, killing 11 workers. The federal administration quickly moved to impose a moratorium on exploration in deep waters in the Gulf of Mexico. On June 12, Noble Energy Inc. suspended drilling at the site. The moratorium was lifted in October 2010 under immense pressure from the offshore drilling industry. However, the federal administration has been under strong pressure from the offshore drilling industry to begin issuing permits for drilling projects in the Gulf of Mexico. A spike in gasoline prices over the past few weeks has increased pressure on the federal administration to begin issuing permits again. Federal regulators want offshore drilling companies to prove that they have the capacity to contain the damage from a well blowout before permits are issued. Noble Energy Inc. seems to have met the criteria, and has been rewarded with a permit. However, any possible blowout from the Noble Energy well, could have more catastrophic consequences than the Deepwater Horizon explosion did. For one, the well is about 6,500 feet below the surface, and is much deeper than the Macondo well that exploded in the Gulf. According to company regulators, a worst-case scenario involving a spill from the Noble well would mean approximately 3,000,000 gallons of oil per day going into the Gulf. At the height of the spill last year, the Macondo well was spilling about 2.5 million gallons into the water. If you are an injured offshore worker, contact a maritime attorney at my office to discuss your options for compensation.
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