The Gulf had been closed to drilling after the April 20 explosion on BP's (BP) Deepwater Horizon rig that resulted in the worst oil spill in history , and the ban had been expected to lift Nov. 30. A federal inter-agency report last month estimated that 8,000 to 12,000 jobs would be lost because of the oil-drilling moratorium.
Companies that can meet more stringent safety requirements -- including demonstrating that they can contain the oil in case of a deepwater blowout -- can now restart drilling, Interior Secretary Ken Salazar said in a statement Tuesday.
"At this point we believe the strengthened safety measures we have implemented, along with improved spill response and blowout containment capabilities, have reduced risks to a point where operators who play by the rules and clear the higher bar can be allowed to resume," Salazar said in the statement. "The oil and gas industry will be operating under tighter rules, stronger oversight, and in a regulatory environment that will remain dynamic as we continue to build on the reforms we have already implemented."
The BP oil spill, which started with an explosion that killed 11 workers, leaked an estimated 53,000 barrels of oil per day until the company was able to cap it on July 15. BP took a second-quarter charge of $32.2 billion for the cleanup and other expenses relating to the accident.