By Rupert Neate and agencies | Guardian | Apr. 30, 2012
New drilling sites brings number of BP's Gulf rigs to eight – more than it operated before the Deepwater Horizon disaster
The Deepwater Horizon disaster spewed 4.9m barrels of oil into the Gulf of Mexico. Photograph: Getty Images
BP is planning to start three new oil drilling rigs in the Gulf of Mexico this year. The launch of the new rigs will bring the number of BP rigs in the Gulf to eight – more than the oil giant had before the devastating Deepwater Horizon disaster three years ago.
Bernard Looney, BP's executive in charge of new wells, said BP is expecting to spend $4bn (£2.5bn) on new developments in the Gulf of Mexico this year and hopes to "invest at least that much every year over the next decade".
"After much soul-searching in the fall of 2010, we concluded it would be wrong to walk away [from the Gulf of Mexico]," Looney said at an offshore oil conference in Houston, Texas, on Monday. "We would have been walking away not only from our past, but from a key component of our future."
He said the Deepwater Horizon disaster, which killed 11 people, had "challenged us to the core", but said the company has been working hard to help prevent "such an accident from ever happening again".
While conceding that BP was in "absolutely no position to preach", he called on the industry to adopt broader safety standards.
Last October US regulators granted BP its first permit to drill a new well since the Deepwater Horizon oil spill, that spewed 4.9m barrels of oil into the fragile Gulf of Mexico ecosystem. The permit, for drilling in BP's Kaskida field 250 miles south-west of New Orleans, was approved after BP's well design met more stringent post-spill standards.
Looney did not state where the new rigs will drill, but industry figures said they expect an appraisal well in BP's "giant" Tiber field 250 miles south-west of New Orleans. BP has long wanted to explore the area it discovered in 2009, but had been banned by regulators.
The company's next big project, Mad Dog phase 2, is expected to start production towards the end of the decade. Looney said the field, which was discovered in 1998 and first began producing oil in 2005, holds more than 4bn barrels of oil – enough to promote it to the "super-giant" oil field category.