WASHINGTON — British oil giant BP received approval Friday to restart drilling in the Gulf of Mexico, 18 months after a BP well blowout killed 11 and released millions of barrels of crude into the ocean.

The US Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, of the Department of the Interior, said it had approved BP's exploration plan (EP) for drilling up to four wells in the deep-water Keathley Canyon nearly 200 miles (320 kilometers) offshore, southwest of New Orleans.

BP has rights to explore in two Keathley parcels, in 6,000 feet (1,828 meters) of water. In June this year ExxonMobil announced three significant oil and gas discoveries in the region.

The bureau said BP's exploration plan was the latest of 44 approved since tougher regulations were implemented following the April 20, 2010 Deepwater Horizon explosion at BP's Macondo well, in an area to the northeast of Keathley.

Until Friday BP had been unable to get permission to drill more wells in the Gulf, amid strong official and public anger over alleged mismanagement that led to the blowout, which destroyed the Deepwater Horizon drill rig and damaged Gulf coast seafood, tourism and other industries.

"Before approving this EP, BOEM confirmed BP's compliance with the bureau's rigorous, heightened standards established following the Deepwater Horizon tragedy," the agency said.

"In July 2011, BP announced additional safety enhancements and performance standards they would voluntarily implement in connection with its deepwater drilling operations in the Gulf of Mexico. BOEM has verified that BP has met the relevant voluntary performance standards."

The BOEM said BP still needs to get drilling permits from the Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement before it goes ahead to start the new wells.