BP prepares to apply for return to Gulf of Mexico

BP has written to the US regulator setting out new deepwater drilling standards based on lessons learned from last year's fatal Deepwater Horizon disaster

The letter is a prelude to re-starting drilling in the region. The oil major's new-look, voluntary code includes strictures on the design of blow-out preventers, third-party verification of maintenance procedures, and lab testing of cement slurries, all of which go beyond regulatory obligations.

BP's chief executive Bob Dudley said: "BP's commitment in the wake of the Deepwater Horizon incident is not only to restore the economic and environmental conditions among the affected areas of the Gulf Coast, but also to apply what we have learned to improve the way we operate."

The US government enforced a complete moratorium on drilling in the Gulf of Mexico in the aftermath of the Deepwater Horizon rig explosion in April 2010, which killed 11 people and unleashed the worst oil spill in history.

Since March, the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, Regulation and Enforcement – led by Michael Bromwich – has loosened the restraints, granting licences for some companies in the area to re-start drilling.

As the biggest single leaseholder in the Gulf of Mexico, BP is expected to make moves to re-start drilling within months. The new safety standards are a key step in that direction, although BP stressed yesterday that the decision on when it resumes work in the region is up to the regulator.

BP's move came as the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration reported that oil continues to wash ashore from last year's spill, with 530 miles of US coastline still contaminated.