UPDATED: Shell awarded Gulf drilling contract; Coast Guard blames sheen in Gulf on river sediment

Shell Offshore to drill for oil, natural gas 130 miles from Louisiana coast
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Tuesday, March 22, 2011 at 11:28 am

The Obama administration has approved the first Gulf of Mexico deepwater drilling plan since BP’s Deepwater Horizon spill, Reuters reports. Shell Offshore intends to drill for oil and natural gas at a site 130 miles from the Louisiana coast.

In a joint statement with Michael Bromwich, director of the U.S. Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, Regulation and Enforcement, U.S. Interior Department Secretary Ken Salazar said, “This exploration plan meets the new standards for environmental review and marks another important step toward safer deepwater exploration.”

Bromwich added, “Shell’s submission has satisfied the heightened environmental standards that we are now applying and I am confident that other operators can satisfy the same standards.”

Shell intends to dig three exploratory wells. The company’s plan was the first to be approved of 14 proposals to re-initiate deepwater drilling in the Gulf. WGNO, New Orleans’ ABC affiliate, reports that the approval will likely lead to many more proposals coming in.

The news comes on the heels of reports of a 30-mile-long oil slick on the surface of the water off the coast of Louisiana. Late last week, several locals reported seeing what they thought was oil creating a sheen on the coastal waters outside New Orleans. Those early reports have since been confirmed by the appearance of petroleum and tar balls washing up on the shores of several barrier islands near New Orleans. Officials are puzzled as to the source of the oil and are currently testing samples to see if it might have a connection to the Deepwater Horizon spill, it it’s leakage from a Coast Guard oil well plugging project or if it’s from some other source.

Update: The AP:

The Coast Guard says a miles-long patch of discolored goop floating in the Gulf of Mexico appears to be caused by river sediment.

The Coast Guard tested the patch Sunday and found only trace amounts of petroleum that were well below the state of Louisiana’s standard for clean water. A news release says The Coast Guard believes the discoloration is the result of sediments brought down the Mississippi River.

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