MEXICO CITY (Reuters) - Mexico’s oil and gas regulator unveiled new rules for deepwater drilling on Tuesday aimed at preventing a repeat of BP’s Macondo Gulf oil spill but stopped short of halting drilling during the safety review.
The National Hydrocarbons Commission ordered state oil monopoly Pemex to produce a series of reports on its safety measures over the next eight months and have its procedures certified by an independent expert.
Pemex must also certify it has insurance or other available financial resources to cover any losses or compensation claims stemming from a deepwater accident.
Mexico, like many international oil firms in the United States, has pushed into the deeper waters of the Gulf of Mexico in search of new oil fields as it scrambles to replace aging, shallow water deposits.
Until BP’s Macondo blowout and spill last summer the deepwaters of the Gulf of Mexico were viewed as a costly, but safe place to explore for oil and gas deposits.
In the wake of the accident, the London-based oil giant has set aside a $20 billion fund to cover demands for compensation and likely faces billions more in fines for its role in the world’s worst-ever accidental offshore oil spill.
Pemex estimates nearly 30 billion barrels of oil equivalent are waiting to be discovered in the Mexican section of the Gulf’s deep waters and after BP’s spill Pemex managers continued to push ahead with their drilling plans.
BP is one of the most experienced deepwater drillers in the world. By contrast, Pemex, which has dug less than a dozen wells, is still on a steep learning curve.
So too are Mexican regulators. The National Hydrocarbons Commission was only set up in 2009 and the new regulations defer to industry standards and international norms, meaning Pemex will likely end up following new guidelines issued by the U.S. government for deepwater drilling.
Pemex already has experience with an offshore oil disaster. Its 1979 Ixtoc blowout in the shallow waters of the Gulf raged for months, eventually spewing nearly 3 million barrels of oil into the Gulf before it was capped.
But unlike BP it was never fined and asserted sovereign immunity as a state oil company in U.S. courts to avoid paying compensation to Americans who claimed to have been affected by the Ixtoc spill.
Pemex expects to have four deepwater drilling rigs searching for oil in the Gulf by 2012 and longer-term plans call for the hiring of international oil companies to drill even more wells.
Reporting by Robert Campbell;editing by Sofina Mirza-Reid