The federal government has approved the first new drilling permit for a deep-water oil well in the Gulf of Mexico since the BP oil spill last April.
The new permit, issued Monday, gives Noble Energy the go-ahead to finish drilling a new well about 70 miles southeast of Venice, La. The government stopped deep-well drilling after the BP oil blowout in April 2010, though 37 shallow-water wells have gone ahead since then.
The Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, Regulation and Environment says it is satisfied that Noble Energy has better capping technology than BP did. Several safety mechanisms failed at the BP Macondo well and led to the largest spill in U.S. history.
The Noble Energy well is in more than 6,000 feet of water, and workers will drill around a previously operated well.
"This permit was issued for one simple reason: the operator successfully demonstrated that it can drill its deep-water well safely and that it is capable of containing a subsea blowout if it were to occur," bureau director Michael Bromwich said in a statement. "We expect further deep-water permits to be approved in coming weeks and months based on the same process that led to the approval of this permit."
The news was welcomed by lawmakers from Gulf Coast states.
Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal, a critic of the Obama administration's handing of permits after the BP oil spill, called Monday's development a good first step.
"But we must quickly get to a level of issuing permits that represents a critical mass so thousands of oil and gas industry workers can get back to work fueling America again," he said.
Sen. Mary Landrieu (D-LA) called the decision "long overdue."
"We must continue to work so that this industry is fully back up and running and we reach a point that a permit being issued is not considered a newsworthy event," she said.
NPR's Christopher Joyce contributed to this report.