* Sees start of offshore drilling in first half of year
* Says offshore work postponed for checks after U.S. spill
* To start drilling onshore Libya well shortly
By Alex Lawler
LONDON, Feb 17 BP Plc (BP.L), recovering from last year's Gulf of Mexico oil spill, plans to begin offshore exploration drilling in Libya by the end of June, later than previously expected.
Spokesman Robert Wine said on Thursday that BP expected to drill offshore in Libya in the first half of this year and that work on an onshore well would begin sooner.
The company had previously planned to begin offshore drilling in 2010.
"We postponed it to do extra checks following the oil spill and also the rig we had lined up we decided wasn't suitable, so we've got another rig," he said.
"Onshore, we've got a rig in place and they are getting ready, so that should get under way shortly."
The drilling offshore the North African country may be at a greater depth than it conducted in Gulf of Mexico waters beneath which BP's Macondo well ruptured last year, killing 11 workers and leading to the worst offshore oil spill in U.S. history.
BP plans to use a new drillship, the Deep Ocean Ascension owned by Pride International Inc PDE.N, for its drilling in the Gulf of Sirte in the Mediterranean. It had planned to use another rig owned by Noble Corp (NE.N).
The water in the Gulf of Sirte is as much as 2,000 metres (6,500 feet) deep. The Macondo well was drilled at a depth of about 5,000 feet.
BP said, following the report of a White House panel into the spill published in January, that it supported efforts to improve industry safety and had already made changes designed to do this.
The Libyan drilling will be the first under a $900 million deal BP signed with Libya in 2007 after the lifting of international sanctions on Libya removed barriers to doing business in the country.
At the time, BP described the deal as its largest single exploration commitment.
BP's Libyan plans have aroused suspicion in the United States, where some politicians have said the British government and BP wanted convicted Lockerbie bomber Abdel Basset al-Megrahi released to smooth BP's deal with Libya. He was freed by Scottish authorities in 2009. [ID:nLDE716242]
Both BP and Scottish authorities have denied the oil company lobbied for him to be released. (Editing by Jason Neely)