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Interior Allows Some Suspended Drilling to Resume

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WASHINGTON (AP) - Thirteen companies whose deepwater drilling
activities were suspended last year may be able to resume drilling
without detailed environmental reviews, the Obama administration
said Monday.

The companies - they include Chevron USA Inc. and Shell Offshore
Inc. - will be allowed to resume work at previously drilled wells,
as long as they meet new policies and regulations, officials said.

"For those companies that were in the midst of operations at
the time of the deepwater suspensions (last spring), today's
notification is a significant step toward resuming their permitted
activity," said Michael Bromwich, director of the Bureau of Ocean
Energy Management, Regulation and Enforcement.

The decision is a victory for the drilling companies, which in
the past had routinely won broad waivers from rules requiring
detailed environmental studies. After the disastrous BP spill in
April, the Obama administration pledged it would require companies
to complete environmental reviews before being allowed to drill for
oil.

The administration has been under heavy pressure from the oil
industry, Gulf state leaders and congressional Republicans to speed
up drilling in the Gulf of Mexico, which has come to a near halt
since a moratorium on deepwater drilling was imposed in the wake of
the BP spill. The ban was lifted in October, but drilling has not
yet resumed in waters deeper than 500 feet.

The delay is hurting big oil companies such as Chevron Corp. and
Royal Dutch Shell PLC, which have billions of dollars in
investments tied up in Gulf projects that are on hold. Smaller
operators such as ATP Oil & Gas Corp., Murphy Exploration &
Production Co.-USA, and Noble Energy Inc., also have been affected.

A federal report said the moratorium probably caused a temporary
loss of 8,000 to 12,000 jobs in the Gulf region.

Bromwich and other officials stressed that the policy announced
Monday was not a reversal of its previous plans not to waive
detailed environmental reviews. It said that new rules have
strengthened safety and reduced the risk of another catastrophic
blowout such as the April 20 explosion of the Deepwater Horizon
drilling rig, which killed 11 workers and set off the worst
offshore oil spill in U.S. history.

"This decision was based on our ongoing review of environmental
analyses in the Gulf and was in no way impacted by a singular
company," said Melissa Schwartz, a spokeswoman for Bromwich.

Bromwich said in a statement that the new policy will
accommodate companies whose operations were interrupted by the
five-month moratorium on deepwater drilling, while ensuring that
the companies can resume previously approved activities.

The firms will not be required to complete a detailed review
under the National Environmental Policy Act, but they must comply
with new policies and regulations set up in the wake of the BP
spill, Bromwich said.

(Copyright 2011 by The Associated Press.  All Rights Reserved.)

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