U.S. OKs 4th deepwater drilling permit since BP spill

WASHINGTON Tue Mar 22, 2011 3:56pm EDT

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The U.S. Interior Department said on Tuesday it approved a permit for Exxon Mobil (XOM.N) to drill in the deep waters of the Gulf of Mexico, the fourth such deepwater permit the department has cleared since the BP oil spill last summer.

Exxon was awarded the permit after it complied with new safety drilling regulations imposed by the department after the Gulf spill, including satisfying the requirement that the company be able to contain a blowout at an underwater well.

Exxon plans to use a containment system from the Marine Well Containment Co, marking the first time that a containment device was approved in a drilling permit.

The permit will allow Exxon to drill a new well in its Hadrian North project in the Keathley Canyon Block, located in nearly 7,000 feet of water about 240 miles off the Louisiana coast.

Michael Bromwich, who heads the U.S. agency that oversees offshore drilling, said this latest permit approval shows that oil companies can meet the safety requirements imposed after the spill.

The oil company said in a statement it supported the government's efforts to restart drilling in the Gulf "so that tens of thousands of Americans can return to work."

Exxon's shares fell 12 cents to $82.77 in late New York Stock Exchange trading.

(Reporting by Tom Doggett; editing by Sofina Mirza-Reid)

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