By Ben Geman - 04/03/11 10:12 PM EDT
Oil giant BP is in talks with U.S. regulators about a resumption of drilling in the Gulf of Mexico this summer, according to news reports Sunday.
But the Interior Department is rebutting British media reports of an agreement.
“An agreement covering existing wells could be reached within the next month but would not include new drilling, the official said,” their story states. Other reports have also cited 10 wells.
But the scope of the discussions remains uncertain. “There is no truth to the suggestion that we are in talks regarding the reported drilling of 10 wells,” a source familiar with the BP meetings told The Hill.
The Wall Street Journal similarly reported on BP efforts to win permission to resume drilling development wells to increase or maintain production at existing fields, as opposed to new exploration wells.
The Journal report claims that BP is “close” to securing permission, while neither U.S. paper went as far as the U.K.’s Financial Times, which reported that BP “has struck a deal” with U.S. regulators on the drilling.
Melissa Schwartz, a spokeswoman for the Interior Department’s Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, Regulation and Enforcement, said Sunday that “there is no such deal.”
"We don't make deals. We issue permits based on the merits of the application," she said, and pointed out that no permits have been issued to BP.
“As [Bureau of Ocean Energy] Director [Michael] Bromwich has said in speeches and testimony, he meets regularly with companies to discuss their operations. BP is no different,” Schwartz said.
But BP’s actions are sure to face careful scrutiny following last year’s catastrophic blowout of the company’s Macondo well, which led to the spill of millions of barrels of oil into the Gulf.
The accident prompted Interior officials to freeze deepwater drilling for months and issue tougher safety standards in areas such as well design and companies' ability to contain deepwater blowouts.
This story was updated at 6:08 a.m. on April 4