BP has been given its first-ever oil exploration permits off the Australian coast, but the government said the energy giant will have to demonstrate higher safety standards than it had applied in the Gulf of Mexico before it is allowed to drill.
BP holds stakes in the Northwest Shelf and Gorgon natural gas fields in Western Australia state but has never before applied for its own offshore exploration permits in Australia.
Resources and Energy Minister Martin Ferguson announced that BP has been awarded four of seven offshore exploration permits approved by the government as part of an annual tender process.
BP will be allowed to explore to depths exceeding 15,000ft (4,600m) off the coast of South Australia, while the other three permits awarded to Australian companies Woodside Energy, Riverina Energy and Finder No 4 are off Western Australia.
Oil companies are facing increased scrutiny in the United States after an explosion and spill at BP’s Deepwater Horizon rig in the Gulf of Mexico killed 11 workers on April 20 last year and caused massive environmental damage to the US coast.
“The permits awarded to BP follow an extensive assessment and due diligence process that examined the technical and financial competence of BP to undertake the proposed work programme in accordance with the stringent requirements of Australian legislation,” Mr Ferguson said in a statement.
“Additional conditions have also been attached to these permits, emphasising the need for oil field best practice behaviour by the operator.”
He added. “This reinforces BP’s undertaking, given as part of the assessment process, to fully integrate lessons learned from the Deepwater Horizon incident into its systems and processes.”
Democrats in Washington pledged this month to push for tougher regulation of offshore drilling in the United States and to make oil companies more financially responsible for spills – steps a US presidential panel says are necessary to prevent another catastrophic blowout.
BP spokesman Jamie Jardine said the company had applied for the permits before it lost its rig in the worst offshore spill in US history.