Obama administration approves first post-spill deepwater exploration plan

“It once again shows that we can and we are moving ahead with safer and more responsible exploration and development,” Salazar added.

The exploration plan outlines all planned activities in Shell’s lease. Approval of the plan is necessary before new drilling permits can be issued.

Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, Regulation and Enforcement (BOEMRE) Director Michael Bromwich said that 13 new deepwater exploration plans are pending, and that the approval of the Shell plan will likely bring more applications.

“With the approval of this one many more may be filed in the near term,” Bromwich told reporters.

For Shell, BOEMRE approved a supplemental exploration plan that includes new activities from Shell’s original exploration plan, which was approved in 1985. The plan proposes drilling three exploratory wells in 2,950 feet of water about 130 miles from the Louisiana coast.

The approval drew a quick cheer from the National Ocean Industries Association, a trade group that has called for faster action on Gulf development.

"Approval of Shell’s supplementary exploration plan to drill three new deepwater wells in the Gulf of Mexico is certainly welcome news for the offshore industry. This decision is a huge first step in a process which we hope will successfully lead to new operations and a rapid return to work for the thousands of people employed by our member companies," said Randall Luthi, the group's president, in a statement.

—This post was updated at 4:05 p.m.