BP disaster will not halt deepwater drilling off Britain, insists minister

BRITAIN will continue with plans to open up new deepwater oil drilling operations off Shetland, despite the unfolding disaster caused by the BP disaster in the Gulf of Mexico, a UK energy minister has confirmed.

• A member of a bird rescue team captures an oiled pelican for cleaning in Louisiana. Picture: Getty Images

Charles Hendry said ministers had no plans to introduce a moratorium on new drilling activities along the lines of the six-month ban imposed by President Barack Obama.

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As oil slicks continued to wash ashore in the United States, up to 100 miles from the source of the leak, Mr Hendry said Britain would continue to explore in its own deeper water reserves to the west of Shetland - the last major area in UK waters to be developed for oil and gas.

"We think it's in our national interest to get the most out of our own indigenous resources," he said. "That means getting the best resources we can out of the North Sea, and that means developing west of Shetland."

Yesterday, Norway followed the lead of the US, its government indicating it was "not appropriate" to open new deep-water areas for oil drilling until the investigation into the BP leak had been concluded.

But Mr Hendry defended the UK's decision not to follow suit. "Be in no doubt safety considerations will be paramount," he insisted.

The announcement came as a newspaper report suggested the family of BP chief executive Paul Hayward was under police protection in Kent following threats made by environmentalists in the wake of the disaster.

The pressure was increased by Mr Obama, who insisted he would have sacked Hayward had he been in charge. In an interview with NBC, the president was asked about comments made by Mr Hayward in the immediate aftermath of the spill, that the Gulf of Mexico was "a big ocean".

Mr Obama said: "He wouldn't be working for me after any of those statements."

The president, who is facing growing criticism over his handling of the crisis, said he did not want to prejudge the investigation into the incident. But he added: "The initial reports indicate there may be situations in which not only human error was involved, but you also saw some corner-cutting in terms of safety."

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BP denies those allegations, and the president's comments put further pressure on the company's share price yesterday. It closed down 21p at 4.09 in London.

Admiral Thad Allen of the US Coastguard said the containment cap fitted to the ruptured well at the weekend was succeeding in limiting the leak.

Speaking at a Washington briefing, he said more than 14,800 barrels of oil had been captured in the last 24 hours, with the amount of oil kept from leaking into the sea climbing steadily each day.

He also said officials will be meeting BP to assess how well it was handling claims for relief from people affected by the spill.