UPDATE 1-BP: US Gulf oil well drilling nears pre-Macondo levels

Thu Sep 20, 2012 5:08pm EDT

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RIO DE JANEIRO, Sept 20 (Reuters) - BP Plc's oil drilling in the Gulf of Mexico is approaching levels last seen before its Macondo well ruptured and spewed millions of barrels of crude in 2010, the company's vice president of global deepwater response said on Thursday.

The executive, Richard Morrison, said on the sidelines of the Rio Oil & Gas Conference that BP's drilling activity in the U.S. Gulf was "close" to what it was before the blowout, which caused explosions aboard Transocean Ltd's Deepwater Horizon drilling rig and killed 11 men.

The U.S government halted drilling for six months after the disaster, which gushed nearly 5 million barrels of oil and fouled much of the U.S. Gulf Coast before BP capped the well two years ago this week.

The moratorium was lifted in October 2010, but producers did not resume drilling until regulators began awarding permits in February 2011 when companies could meet stricter standards for safety and oil spill response.

BP Chief Executive Bob Dudley told analysts in July that BP had six rigs drilling in the Gulf and would have two more by the end of 2012, a record for the company.

Earlier this month, Royal Dutch Shell Plc surpassed BP as the biggest oil producer in the U.S. Gulf, according to rankings by the U.S. Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement.

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