BP to start drilling for oil off Libya within weeks

24th July 2010, Comments 0 comments

BP will start drilling off the Libyan coast in a few weeks, it said Saturday, despite lingering questions over the deal which led to the exploration and the oil firm's role in the Gulf of Mexico oil spill.

"We expect to begin the first well in the next few weeks," spokesman David Nicholas told AFP, adding that the 2007 deal signed with Libya to explore the Gulf of Sirte included commitments to drill five wells.

Although he could not give a detailed timeframe, he said: "These wells can take six months or more to drill."

The future of deep-sea drilling has come under scrutiny following an explosion in April on the BP-leased Deepwater Horizon oil rig, which killed 11 workers.

It sank, causing a massive oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, the worst environmental disaster in United States history, sparking a furious reaction against BP in the US.

BP's Libyan well, at about 5,700 feet under water, is deeper than the well beneath the Deepwater Horizon, but Nicholas said the company took the risks involved "very seriously".

He added: "If there are any lessons obviously that come out of the investigation into what happened on the Deepwater Horizon, we will apply those to our drillings across the world."

The imminent drilling was made possible by an agreement which British-based BP signed with Libya in 2007 worth at least 900 million dollars (700 million euros), then the firm's biggest-ever deal of its kind.

This deal has come under renewed scrutiny in recent weeks amid claims by US lawmakers that it may have been linked to the release of the Lockerbie bomber.

Libyan Abdelbaset Ali Mohmet al-Megrahi was convicted of blowing up a US airliner over the Scottish town of Lockerbie in 1988, killing 270 people.

But the Scottish government decided to release him from prison in Glasgow, central Scotland, last year on compassionate grounds because he was thought to have only a few months to live due to his terminal prostate cancer.

Megrahi is still alive and living in Libya. A doctor who saw him in prison was recently quoted as saying he could live for another 10 years.

The US Senate's Foreign Relations Committee will hold a hearing Thursday on claims that BP lobbied for his release to secure the Libyan oil deal, which London, the devolved administration in Scotland and BP all deny.

Britain's Foreign Secretary William Hague wrote to Senator John Kerry, chairman of the committee, Saturday saying that BP had played no part in securing Megrahi's release but calling the decision to free him "wrong and misguided".

"I believe we have a responsibility to address the unsubstantiated rumours that there was some sort of conspiracy involving BP which led to Mr Megrahi's release," Hague wrote to Kerry in a letter released by the Foreign Office.

The issue repeatedly cropped up during Prime Minister David Cameron's visit to the White House this week and Hague has previously written to US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton about it.

© 2010 AFP

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