From Houston (BN): Regulators have approved more exploration plans in the Gulf of Mexico, most filed before the recent oil price decline but all clearly based on operators’ long-term outlook. Marathon, which hasn’t been all that active in the GoM in recent years, had two plans conditionally approved by the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM).

The plan for its Colonial prospect in Keathley Canyon 340-384, about 430km south-southwest of New Orleans in 2,030m calls for four 200-day exploration wells, two in each block. The wells are to be drilled at the rate of one a year starting this year and running through 2018. The Colonial wells are to be mudline suspended after drilling.

Marathon also won conditional approval of an exploration plan for its Solomon prospect in Walker Ridge 225-226-269, about 390km south-southwest of New Orleans in 2,065m. Here seven wells are to be drilled and mudline suspended, four in WR225, two in WR269 and one in WR226. The wells are due to take 265 days to drill and are to be drilled at the rate of one a year starting this year through 2021.

Marathon plans to use managed pressure drilling (MPD) at both prospects, a technology that is classed in the same family as dual-gradient drilling (DGD) and described as ‘new and unusual’ by BOEM. As with DGD, MPD aims to keep the bottomhole pressure in the ‘window’ between fracturing the formation and suffering back pressure into the hole, while minimising the total number of casing strings required.

At both prospects, Marathon and partners paid a lot for the leases involved. For the two leases in Colonial, Marathon and Statoil bid more than $93mn in lease sales in 2012 and 2013. For the three leases involved in Solomon, Marathon and Hess forked over more than $189mn in 2008.

BP is tempting fate again with plans for another unusual name for a prospect. Mazama, according to the Internet, is the name geologists gave a volcano that exploded and collapsed eons ago, creating Oregon’s Crater Lake. NB: The ill-fated Macondo field was named for a doomed village in a Gabriel Garcia Marquez novel (SEN, 31/20).

The conditionally approved Mazama plan calls two wells targeting in Green Canyon 321, about 280km south-southwest of New Orleans in 828m. The wells are expected to take 255 days each and are to be drilled and temporarily abandoned this year and next. BP acquired the tract in 2009 for $7.9mn.

Apache Deepwater has won conditional approval for its Malcolm project, three 100-day exploratory wells to be drilled in Viosca Knoll 992 and Mississippi Canyon 30, about 190km southeast of New Orleans in 738m.

This plans calls for the first well this year in VK992, a second well in 2016 and a well in MC30 in 2017. The wells are positioned along and on opposite ends of a depression that extends about 5km.

The lease on VK992 is about to expire. It dates from 2004 when Mariner, Houston Energy and Helis paid $1.1mn for the tract. Apache, Venari and Energy XXI are the current owners. The lease on GC30 dates from 2013, and Apache and Venari went 50-50 on a $10.3mn bid for it.

Elsewhere in the GOM, three new injection wells and a subsea manifold are planned for the Southwest Cluster and Frio fields of the Great White unit which will feed into Shell’s deepwater hub based around the spar on its Perdido field.

The work is in Alaminos Canyon 856-857-900 in 2,446m about 320km east of the Texas coast, in the far southwestern GoM. The plan calls for installation of a manifold, jumpers, a subsea xmas tree and a flying lead for well GB006 to be drilled this year. Well GB007 is to be drilled and tied back in 2018 and well GB008 in 2019.

In Mississippi Canyon 563, Deep Gulf Energy plans two new wells. MC563 is part of a unit that has been in production since 2009. The wells are in 1,995m about 244km southeast of New Orleans.