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BHP Billiton announced today that first oil and natural gas production has commenced from the Neptune development in the deepwater Gulf of Mexico. The single-column tension leg platform (TLP) is designed to handle up to 50,000 barrels of oil per day and 50 million cubic feet per day of natural gas.

The facility has recently undergone remediation to strengthen the structural components inside the hull’s pontoons. This work was carried out with the engineering contractor that designed the hull.

"The start-up of the Neptune project after several years of drilling, construction, and with the recent remediation work, is a significant accomplishment for BHP Billiton," said J. Michael Yeager, Chief Executive BHP Billiton Petroleum.

Neptune, located approximately 120 miles (195 kilometres) off the Louisiana coastline, is the first standalone deepwater production platform in the Gulf of Mexico operated by BHP Billiton.

"BHP Billiton has made significant investments in multiple projects in the deepwater Gulf of Mexico. We’re now realizing the rewards of that investment with first production late last year from Atlantis and Genghis Khan, now with Neptune, and next year when the BHP Billiton-operated Shenzi development is expected to come online," Yeager added.

The Neptune TLP was installed in 4,250 feet (1,300 metres) of water on Green Canyon Block 613. Field development includes six initial subsea wells tied back to the TLP. Further development wells are expected to be drilled after interpretation of new seismic data, which will be obtained in the latter half of 2008.

The Neptune field comprises five blocks: Atwater Valley 573, 574, 575, 617 and 618 where water depths range from 4,200 to 6,500 feet (1,275 to 2,000 metres). Crude oil from Neptune is transported to markets via the Caesar pipeline (in which BHP Billiton has a 25 per cent equity share), while natural gas is exported via the Cleopatra pipeline (where BHP Billiton has a 22 per cent equity share).

BHP Billiton is the operator with a 35 per cent interest. Partners include Marathon Oil Company (30 per cent), Woodside Energy (USA) Inc. (20 per cent), and Maxus (U.S.) Exploration Company (15 per cent).

This document contains certain forward-looking statements relating to the business, financial performance and results of BHP Billiton and/or the industry in which it operates. Forward-looking statements concern future circumstances and results and other statements that are not historical facts, sometimes identified by the words "believes", "expects", "predicts", "intends", "projects", "plans", "estimates", "aims", "foresees", "anticipates", "targets", and similar expressions. The forward-looking statements, contained in this document, including assumptions, opinions and views of BHP Billiton or cited from third party sources are solely opinions and forecasts which are uncertain and subject to risks. A multitude of factors can cause actual events to differ significantly from any anticipated development. Neither BHP Billiton any of its subsidiaries nor any of its officers or employees guarantees that the assumptions underlying such forward-looking statements are free from errors nor does any of the foregoing accept any responsibility for the future accuracy of the opinions expressed in this document or the actual occurrence of the forecasted developments.

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