* 33 exploratory wells will stop operations for 6 months
* Affected companies may include Chevron, Shell, BP
* Plan calls for new blow out preventer, cementing rules
By Ayesha Rascoe
WASHINGTON, May 28 Deepwater exploratory rigs
affected by the Obama Administration's crackdown on offshore
drilling must halt operations soon and stay out of action for
six months, according to government documents and officials.
The U.S. Interior Department released a 44-page safety
report late Thursday with more technical details about the
six-month ban in the wake of the BP oil spill.
The ban stops issuance of new exploratory drilling permits
in deep water for six months and effectively idles operations
of 33 deepwater exploratory rigs for the same period.
"Drilling operations should cease as soon as safely
practicable for a six-month period," the report said. Interior
officials said they expect industry to move quickly to shut
down the rigs safely.
Big offshore operators in the Gulf include BP Plc (BP.L),
Chevron (CVX.N), Royal Dutch Shell (RDSa.L) and Petrobras
(PETR4.SA). Contractors that operate deepwater rigs in the Gulf
of Mexico include Transocean (RIG.N), Diamond Offshore (DO.N),
Ensco (ESV.N) and Noble Corp (NE.N). For a factbox on
contractors and operators of rigs in the Gulf of Mexico, please
click on [ID:nN20182158]
BP, which has been struggling to plug the ruptured well
gushing thousands of barrels of oil into the Gulf for weeks, is
involved with at least four of these deepwater exploratory
Interior's drilling ban does not affect platforms beyond
the exploration stage and already producing. BP's doomed
Deepwater Horizon semi submersible, leased from Transocean Ltd
(RIGN.S), was an exploratory rig.
Operations on the Gulf's deep sea exploratory rigs will
cease pending findings and recommendations of the commission
set up by U.S. President Barack Obama to determine the cause of
the Gulf spill.
The six-month moratorium will block any new exploratory
drilling permits in water depths more than 500 feet.
Any delays to future offshore development could have
consequences for U.S. oil output, however. Energy consultants
Wood Mackenzie previously estimated a six-month extension of
the ban would delay 80,000 barrels a day in U.S. oil production
that was expected in 2011.
In addition to the deepwater drilling ban, the report also
outlined a number of potentially costly new safety standards
companies will be required meet.
In particular, blow-out preventers on floating drilling
operations will have to be certified and include two sets of
blind shear rams. There will also be new design requirements
for casing and cementing on wells.