But it's not a sign that more deepwater permitting is immediately around the corner, says FBR Capital Markets.

Australian producer BHP Billiton has received the first permit from the Bureau of Energy Management, Regulation and Enforcement (BOEM) to drill in the deepwater Gulf of Mexico since the moratorium was lifted in mid-October, analysts for Tudor, Pickering, Holt & Co. Securities Inc. (TPH) said Wednesday.

It's "no victory lap but [it's] progress nonetheless," they said. The permit is for a water injector well located in 4,383 feet of water 120 miles off the coast of Louisiana in the the Shenzi field in Green Canyon Block 654.

"[We're] happy to see a new well permit approved...but on [a] risk spectrum, water injector is the least risky new well that can be drilled (vs. development/exploratory," the TPH analysts said. Nevertheless, the "rig is beneficiary as one of their standby rigs will go back on dayrate to perform the work," they noted.

The BHP announcement is not a signal that more deepwater permitting will occur in the near term, said FBR Capital Markets. "This type of well was already allowed under the terms of the deepwater moratorium," FBR said.

The "BHP well was included under a drilling plan approved in 2006. In November 2006 the Minerals Management Services (MMS), the predecessor agency to BOEM, approved a supplemental exploration plan submitted by BHP for the Shenzi prospect of Green Canyon Block 654 that included Well Z. BHP also had a development plan...approved for the same prospect in 2007. BHP submitted the APD [application for permit to drill] for the well in question on Aug. 6, 2010, before BOEM had issued its final interim drilling rule," it noted.

BHP is the operator of the Shenzi field, with a 44% stake with partners Repsol (25%) and Hess (28%). The producer announced its first oil and natural gas production from the Shenzi field in March 2009.

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