BP delays plans to begin deepwater drilling off Libyan coast

LONDON (AP) — BP is delaying plans to begin deepwater drilling off the Libyan coast.

BP spokesman David Nicholas said on Wednesday that BP expects to begin exploratory drilling in the Gulf of Sirte later this year. The London-based company had said last month that it planned to start drilling within "a few weeks."

Nicholas said the company is "working through the detailed planning."

BP has run into opposition to its plans for drilling in both the Gulf of Sirte and off Scotland's Shetland Islands after the Gulf of Mexico spill.

Both fields could prove lucrative for the scores of companies, including BP, with drilling rights and will likely provide crucial new global gas and oil reserves as supplies of less risky land and shallow-water reserves decline.

But there is concern about the haste in proceeding before a full investigation into what caused the most serious environmental disaster in U.S. waters, particularly given questions about whether Mediterranean states are equipped to deal with a spill of such a magnitude.

Nicholas said that BP will be applying any lessons learned from the Gulf of Mexico — where the company is still working on relief wells to permanently plug its Macondo well in the Gulf — in Libya and its other operations around the world.

But there are also political objections — a U.S. Senate committee has been investigating allegations that BP pressured the Scottish government into releasing convicted Lockerbie bomber Abdel Baset al-Megrahi in return for Libyan oil deals.

New Jersey Democrat Robert Menendez said last month that he wanted to send investigators to Britain to interview key witnesses including Scottish Justice Secretary Kenny MacAskill and former British Justice Secretary Jack Straw.

The Senate Foreign Relations Committee had complained about the British witnesses' unwillingness to attend a Capitol Hill hearing probing the decision to release al-Megrahi, the only person convicted of bombing an American flight over Lockerbie, Scotland in 1988. The attack killed 259 people.

BP has acknowledged that it had urged the British government to sign a prisoner transfer agreement with Libya, but stressed it did not specifically seek out al-Megrahi's release.