Shells Wins Approval For Gulf Exploratory Wells

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Royal Dutch Shell, Europe's largest oil company, received approval from U.S. regulators on Monday to drill three exploratory wells in the Gulf of Mexico, the first approvals for new deepwater wells granted by the Interior Department since the Deepwater Horizon rig exploded last April, creating the largest oil spill in U.S. history.

''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, director of the Interior's Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, Regulation, and Enforcement, according to Dow Jones.

Recently, three approvals have been granted for companies to resume deepwater projects in the Gulf that were started prior to the spill, but the approvals for Shell (RDS-A) are for new work. The Anglo-Dutch oil giant plans to drill in the Auger field which is 130 miles off the coast of Louisiana at depths of up to almost 3,000 feet.

Separately, Shell said it plans to complete an expansion of its Athabasca in the Canadian oil sands region sometime in the second quarter. The company said the expansion should take capacity at Athabasca to 255,000 barrels per day from the current level of 155,000 barrels per day.