BP delays plans for deepwater drilling off Libya

Eric Watkins
OGJ Oil Diplomacy Editor

LOS ANGELES, Aug. 13 -- BP PLC has delayed the launch of its deepwater exploration for oil off Libya for an unspecified period of time in an effort to ensure that its plans are in order.

“We are being thorough and making sure everything is in order before we start,” said company spokesman Robert Wine, who explained that the delay was occasioned by the need to check and test plans and equipment for the venture.

The statement reversed earlier ones by BP officials. “We expect to begin the first well in the next few weeks,” said BP company spokesman David Nicholas in early July of the 2007 agreement with Libya to explore the Gulf of Sirte.

Libya's National Oil Co. Chairman Shokri Ghanem defended the venture, saying that BP’s operations would take place under careful scrutiny by his government. “Libya has well defined rules and regulations and there are severe consequences for international oil companies that do not follow them,” he said.

“We continually follow-up with companies and we are certain before allowing any companies to start drilling onshore or offshore the environmental procedures are followed exactly so that damage to the environment is avoided,” said Ghanem.

However, BP’s announcement follows concerns expressed in Europe where politicians increasingly have called for a moratorium on deepwater operations to allow time to assess the environmental impact in light of oil spill disaster in the Gulf of Mexico.

Earlier this month Italy’s environment minister Stefania Prestigiacomo told the Financial Times that BP’s plans for deepwater drilling in the Mediterranean, “give rise to serious concern.”

Prestigiacomo said, “A moratorium could be a right approach for potentially dangerous drilling…to give Europe time to define a new and specific strategy for the Mediterranean especially in light of the risk exposed by the Deepwater Horizon spill.”

Her remarks echoed earlier calls by European politicians for a moratorium on BP’s plan to drill off Libya.

“Any responsible government would at present practically freeze new permits for drilling with extreme parameters and conditions,” said the European Union Energy Commissioner Gunther Oettinger in early July.

“This can mean de facto a moratorium on new drills until the causes of the accident are known and corrective measures are taken for such frontier operations as the ones carried out by the Deepwater Horizon,” Oettinger said.

Oettinger echoed Italy's foreign minister Franco Frattini who warned of “disquiet” in Mediterranean countries after BP announced new deepwater drilling off Libya.

“Everybody is watching closely what BP is doing since the worrying events in the Gulf of Mexico,” Frattini told a news conference following talks with his EU counterparts in Brussels.

At the time, Frattini said any action relating to the exploration work near the Sicilian coast would have to be taken up by the Mediterranean Union, which groups rim countries from Europe, North Africa, and the Middle East.

“If an incident like the one in the Gulf of Mexico were to happen in the Mediterranean, it would be a catastrophe beyond repair, because the Mediterranean is like a lake [in comparison],” Frattini said.

Contact Eric Watkins at hippalus@yahoo.com.

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