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British to double check oil rigs

LONDON — British officials said today they would double the number of inspections carried out at oil rigs in the North Sea following the disastrous leak at a BP-operated installation in the Gulf of Mexico.

Britain’s Department of Energy said the average number of annual environmental checks aboard the country’s 24-odd drilling rigs would rise from eight to 16, and said it was hiring three extra inspectors to help pursue the more aggressive program. The department did not provide details of the inspections, but said they involved visits to each rig.

Energy Secretary Chris Huhne said that while he believed the measures governing the nation’s offshore energy industry were robust, the catastrophic leak and its aftermath had given the government “pause for thought.”

Tens of millions of gallons of oil have already poured into the Gulf of Mexico after a deadly blast at the Deepwater Horizon rig on April 20 turned its well into an oil geyser, staining beaches and costing hundreds of millions of dollars.

London-based energy company BP PLC has repeatedly failed to plug the well over the past month and a half, although a cap recently installed above the gusher has started siphoning off at least some of the spill.

BP also operates a large network of platforms, pipelines, and terminals up and down the North Sea, where oil and gas exploration began in the 1960s. With new energy exploration beginning in deep waters off the Scottish archipelago of Shetland, Huhne said there was “every reason to increase our vigilance.”

Huhne also promised the creation of a new oil industry group to report on Britain’s ability to prevent and respond to a potential spill.

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