The Interior Department Wednesday said it approved a deepwater Gulf of Mexico supplemental exploration plan (SEP) for Shell Offshore Inc. following the completion of a site-specific environmental assessment (SEA) for deepwater oil and natural gas exploration.

Interior’s Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, Regulation and Enforcement (BOEM) said it found no evidence that Shell Offshore’s proposed actions would significantly affect the quality of the human environment. As a result, the agency determined that an environmental impact statement was not required and issued a “finding of no significant impact,” which allowed the exploration plan to be approved.

Shell Offshore’s SEP, which augments the original exploration plan submitted prior to the Deepwater Horizon rig explosion, includes five new proposed exploratory wells in approximately 7,160 to 7,259 feet of water, as well as three previously approved wells about 72 miles offshore Louisiana.

BOEM approved the SEP within the 30-day review period, which started when the agency deemed that the SEP information submitted by Shell Offshore was complete.

Before Shell Offshore can begin drilling the exploratory wells, it first must receive a permit for each individual well from BOEM, said BOEM spokeswoman Eileen Angelico. She said the agency is under no time restrictions to award the permits.

“This exploration plan was reviewed under the heightened standards we are now using to conduct site-specific environmental assessments,” said BOEM Director Michael Bromwich.

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