NEW YORK ( TheStreet) -- R.I.P. BP ( BP) Macondo well. Over the weekend, the final relief well drilling was completed by BP putting an end to the BP oil spill that began on April 20. Cement has now sealed off the busted BP well for good, even though for all intents and purposes the well had been shut off since July 15. Outgoing BP CEO Tony Hayward gave what might be his final statement on the oil spill -- outside of a courtroom or governmental commission chamber -- saying, "This is a significant milestone in the response to the Deepwater Horizon tragedy and is the final step in a complex and unprecedented subsea operation -- finally confirming that this well no longer presents a threat to the Gulf of Mexico." Yet drilling operations in the Gulf of Mexico, the fortunes of many exploration companies and their investors, and the Gulf economy as a whole are still threatened.
With the oil spill official a closed case -- or at least a permanently sealed well -- another major point of debate is when drilling in the Gulf will get back to normal. Indeed, last week, the White House followed up its earlier report stating that there was little unaccounted for oil left in the Gulf of Mexico with a report stating that the job losses predicted by the oil and gas industry as a result of the federal moratorium on deepwater drilling never materialized. "There is no evidence of declining employment after the moratorium was announced," the White House report stated. President Barack Obama's moratorium on deep-water drilling is costing no more than 8,000 to 12,000 jobs, as offshore rig operators have retained skilled workers during the suspension, according to the Obama administration report. The White House report stated that the average number of rig workers fell by about 2,000 and spending by drillers declined by $1.8 billion since the drilling ban began in May. Yet oil industry executives presented a different view last week at an industry conference. Noble Energy ( NBL) management said at a Barclays Capital energy conference that its exploration program in the Gulf of Mexico won't resume until later in 2011 due to new permitting requirements. Speaking to Reuters, the CEO of Seadrill ( SDRL) said that recovery in the Gulf was "years away." The Seadrill CEO predicted a two-year delay until things are back to normal in Gulf of Mexico drilling operations. In an interview with the Wall Street Journal, Total ( TOT) CEO Christophe de Margerie said oil companies are facing 20% higher costs in drilling in the Gulf of Mexico due to expected permitting delays. Indeed, with the BP Macondo well finally and officially killed, the more important question is, Will Gulf of Mexico drilling operations get back to normal sooner or later? Take our poll below to see what TheStreet thinks.
--Written by Eric Rosenbaum in New York. >To contact the writer of this article, click here: NAME. >To follow the writer on Twitter, go to http://twitter.com/NAME. >To submit a news tip, send an email to: email@example.com.