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US approves first deepwater drilling in Gulf since BP disaster as oil tar balls reappear on coast

Yesterday the US Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, Regulation and Enforcement awarded Royal Dutch Shell PLC the first deep-water exploration permit since the BP disaster last year, which sent some 4.9 million barrels of oil and up to 500,000 tons of methane into the Gulf of Mexico over three months.

“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,” said Michael Bromwich, head of the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, Regulation and Enforcement.

More permits were likely to be issued over the next few weeks according to Bromwich. Still environmentalists remained skeptical about the government’s approval of the drilling permit.

“Pressure to drill is clouding Secretary Salazar’s meaningful review of offshore drilling,” said Miyoko Sakashita, oceans director at the environmental group Center for Biological Diversity. “While Interior has admitted that environmental review was inadequate before the BP oil spill, it nonetheless just approved new deepwater drilling before completing the full environmental impact statement that it has promised to prepare.”

Bromwich admitted to the Wall Street Journal that “other operators” have “with surprising and disturbing speed […] seemed all-too-ready to shrug off Deepwater Horizon as a complete aberration, a perfect storm, one in a million.”

At the same time, oil tar balls from an unknown source drifted ashore in Louisiana over the weekend. Officials are currently testing the balls to determine the source. However, earlier sheen spotted on the water that was taken for oil is likely river sediment, according to the Coast Guard.

The US consumes more oil than any other country in the world. In 2007 the US consumed over 20 million barrels of oil everyday: nearly three times as much as the number two consumer, China. For decades the US has focused on producing and importing more oil, instead of increasing efficiency or lowering consumption.

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