The Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, Regulation and Enforcement (BOEM) is soliciting comments on an environmental assessment (EA) of the first supplemental exploration plan (EP) in the deepwater of the Gulf of Mexico.

It is the first EP for the deepwater that has been submitted to the Interior Department agency in the wake of the Macondo well blowout and oil spill off the Louisiana coast, and it is subject to stringent safety and environmental standards that were implemented following the disaster.

The supplemental EP, submitted by Shell Offshore Inc., calls for three exploratory wells to be drilled in approximately 2,950 feet of water 130 miles offshore Louisiana. These activities in the oil and natural gas lease in the Auger field were not included in the operator's original EP, BOEM said. Oil and gas is currently being produced from this lease, which was originally approved in 1985.

Earlier this month BOEM notified Shell Offshore and 12 other producers whose deepwater drilling activities were suspended by the post-Macondo drilling moratorium that they may be able to resume previously approved activities without having to file revised exploration and development plans for supplemental review under the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) (see Daily GPI, Jan. 4).

"As we continue exploration in the deepwater Gulf of Mexico, we will conduct thorough site-specific reviews to ensure that the proposed activities are carried out safely, responsibly and in accordance with our regulations," said BOEM Director Michael R. Bromwich. "Our reliance on environmental assessments [rather than NEPA reviews, in some cases] as part of our review of exploratory drilling plans in deepwater underscores our commitment to ensuring that deepwater drilling goes forward with adequate regard and protection for the environment."

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