03/21/2011 04:57 pm ET | Updated May 25, 2011

First Deepwater Exploration For Oil And Gas Approved By U.S. Since BP Oil Spill

WASHINGTON - The Interior Department said on Monday it approved Shell's plan for deepwater oil and natural gas exploration in the Gulf of Mexico, the first such exploration plan with a complete environmental assessment since the BP oil spill.

The department imposed tougher safety and environmental review requirements for exploration plans and drilling permits following the massive oil spill last summer.

"This exploration plan meets the new standards for environmental review and marks another important step toward safer deepwater exploration," said Interior Secretary Ken Salazar.

Shell's exploration plan is for its leased Auger field located 130 miles off the Louisiana coastline. The company wants to drill three exploratory wells in nearly 3,000 feet of water.

There are 13 other deepwater plans pending approval, the department said.

(Reporting by Tom Doggett; Editing by Marguerita Choy and Sofina Mirza-Reid)

Copyright 2011 Thomson Reuters. Click for Restrictions.