DOI implements deepwater moratorium with notice to lessees

Nick Snow
OGJ Washington Editor

WASHINGTON, DC, June 1 -- The US Department of the Interior issued a notice to leaseholders and operators of federal deepwater oil and gas leases on May 30 implementing the 6-month moratorium that DOI Secretary Ken Salazar ordered on May 28. The order covers wells deeper than 500 ft.

The notice directs lessees and operators to cease drilling any new deepwater wells, including wellbore sidekick and bypass activities; prohibits the spudding of any new deepwater wells; and puts lessees and operators on notice that, with certain exceptions, the US Minerals Management Service not consider drilling permits for deepwater wells and related activities for 6 months.

Operators which are current drilling any well covered by the notice must proceed to secure the well at the next safe opportunity and take all necessary steps to cease operations and temporarily abandon or close the well until they receive further guidance from the regional supervisor for field operations, according to DOI.

It said that activities necessary to support existing deepwater production may continue, but operators must obtain approval of those activities from DOI. The moratorium does not apply to workovers, completions, abandonments, nonemergency and emergency interventions, and waterflood, gas injection, and disposal well operations, according to a guidance table issued with the order.

Salazar said the moratorium will provide time to implement new safety requirements and allow US President Barack Obama’s independent commission investigating the Apr. 20 well blowout and explosion which killed 11 people and destroyed the Deepwater Horizon semisubmersible drilling rig, and the subsequent crude oil spill into the Gulf of Mexico from a well owned by BP PLC.

“Deepwater production from the gulf will continue subject to close oversight and safety requirements, but deepwater drilling operations must safely come to a halt,” the secretary said. “With the BP oil spill still growing in the gulf, and investigations and reviews still under way, a six-month pause in drilling is needed, appropriate, and prudent.”

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