BP’s Back, Baby!

Last Friday, BP filed its first plan for new exploratory drilling in the Gulf of Mexico since the Deepwater Horizon disaster of 2010. It’s only been a year and a half since the company dumped several million barrels of oil into the Gulf, but it already feels ready to hunt for more, this time in the Keathley Canyon area.

The New Orleans Times-Picayune has a good piece on BP’s new proposal for exploration in the Gulf. As the Times-Pic notes, it’s not like BP hasn’t been out there since the spill. The company has continued work on its old wells, and its ventures with Chevron, BHP Billiton, and Noble Energy have all moved forward. But the Keathley Canyon exploration is the first new solo project for the company since the spill. A piece from Reuters includes this tidbit:

After calling a full-stop on new offshore drilling after the spill, U.S. regulators have approved new drilling plans for many other companies, including Royal Dutch Shell and Chevron , but not for BP.

“I think it will be interesting to see whether BP is treated any differently. The word is they won’t, but we’ll see,” said Phil Weiss of Argus Research in New York.

“It’s significant in that, assuming it’s approved, it gives BP the ability to get back to work on a project they’re in charge of,” Weiss said.

“All operators are held to the same enhanced safety and environmental standards put in place following the Deepwater Horizon explosion and oil spill,” a BOEM spokeswoman said.

The last part is what’s interesting to me. One would hope that all offshore drilling proposals are subject to rigorous consideration before they are approved, of course. But it’s a little alarming that a company like BP can dump 4.9 million barrels of oil into the Gulf and, a year and a half later, not be subject to any more scrutiny than other drillers. Not even a little.

It’s also worth noting that the oil spill response bill the House passed last year would have at least barred oil companies with bad records from obtaining new leases in the Gulf. But that bill didn’t go anywhere in the Senate, and therefore is not a law today. What BP is applying for now is approval of an exploration plan, not a new lease, but it is a good reminder that despite last year’s disaster, there are no new restrictions on what BP can do in the Gulf.