UPDATE 1-US OKs 3rd deepwater drilling permit since BP spill

Fri Mar 18, 2011 4:10pm EDT

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* To get permit ATP met new safety requirements

* Approval shows deepwater drilling will continue-Bromwich (Adds details of drilling permit, comment from govt official)

WASHINGTON, March 18 (Reuters) - The U.S. Interior Department said on Friday it approved a deepwater drilling permit for ATP Oil & Gas Corp ATPG.O, the third such permit cleared by the government for the Gulf of Mexico since the BP oil spill last year.

The permit is for ATP to drill a new well at an existing location, known as the Mississippi Canyon Block 941 site, in 4,000 feet of water located 90 miles south of Venice, Louisiana.

To get its new permit, ATP met new safety requirements imposed by the government after the spill. ATP contracted with Helix Well Containment Group to use its capping stack to stop any oil flow that may result from an accident at the well.

"This permit approval demonstrates that deepwater drilling can and will continue in the Gulf of Mexico, provided that operators have successfully demonstrated their ability to operate safely," said Michael Bromwich, the U.S. regulator of offshore drilling.

However, many U.S. lawmakers have accused the Interior Department of moving too slow in approving drilling permits for the Gulf of Mexico since a ban on deepwater drilling was lifted in October.

Initial drilling at the site took place in August 2008. Drilling was suspended in July 2009 and a rig was at the site in April 2010 to prepare for installing a production facility. Operations were the suspended following the BP oil spill.

(Reporting by Tom Doggett and Ayesha Rascoe; Editing by Walter Bagley) ((tom.doggett@thomsonreuters.com; + 1 202 898-8320; Reuters Messaging: tom.doggett.reuters.com@reuters.net))

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