Ships work to clean up the BP Deepwater Horizon oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico on June 25, 2010.
NEW YORK (CNNMoney) -- 554 days after the Deepwater Horizon explosion, BP is back in action in the Gulf of Mexico.
The company announced Wednesday that it had earned its first permit to drill for oil in the Gulf since last year's oil spill disaster, and says that a resumption of drilling is imminent.
"The current situation there is we have a drilling rig on-site, and we intend to begin drilling the well as soon as operationally possible," said Tom Mueller, a spokesman for BP.
The drill site is located about 250 miles southwest of New Orleans, in the "Kaskida Field", and plans call for a total of five wells. BP had already drilled one exploration well and one appraisal well at the site before the Deepwater Horizon spill and the subsequent moratorium on drilling in the Gulf.
The US government's Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement said Wednesday that the BP () project had met "enhanced safety requirements and standards established following the tragedy" in the Gulf last year.
"BP has met all of the enhanced safety requirements that we have implemented and applied consistently over the past year. In addition, BP has adhered to voluntary standards that go beyond the agency's regulatory requirements," BSEE Director Michael R. Bromwich said. "This permit was approved only after thorough well design, blowout preventer, and containment capability reviews."
In April of 2010, an explosion on BP's Deepwater Horizon rig killed 11 workers and fouled the Louisiana coastline and other parts of the Gulf with millions of barrels of oil -- one of the worst oil spills in history. The well was capped three months later, but not before millions of barrels of oil spilled into the Gulf.
BP said that Wednesday's permit approval "is another milestone in our steady return to safely drilling in the Gulf of Mexico."
"We fully understand that we must earn back the trust of stakeholders around the world," the company said.
Since the drilling moratorium was lifted, BP has secured three permits to plug and abandon wells in the Gulf.
The firm has paid $7 billion so far in spill-related costs, including $5 billion to settle claims from at least 3,000 people affected. But Rep. Ed Markey, the ranking Democrat on the House Natural Resources Committee, said the BP's return to the Gulf was premature.
"The fact that BP is getting a permit to drill without yet paying a single cent in fines is a disappointment, and does not serve as an effective lesson of deterrence for oil and gas companies," Markey said in a statement.
"The Obama administration should move with all haste to assess and collect the fines from BP's spill, and BP should do its part as a good corporate citizen and end its litigation over the size of the spill, which determines the fines it will pay."
Shares of BP closed at $44.65 on Wednesday, up 2.6%.
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