Industry prepared for deepwater containment issues

Following the Macondo incident in the Gulf of Mexico and the subsequent new regulations in both the US and international arenas, the oil and gas industry has responded with a full spectrum of new equipment and capabilities for handling offshore spills or blowouts. A number of new well control/well containment groups have been formed, and they have been busy advancing their plans, technologies and services for the consideration of offshore operators and developers. Some of the key groups are described below.

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Eldon Ball
Senior Editor
Technology & Economics

Following the Macondo incident in the Gulf of Mexico and the subsequent new regulations in both the US and international arenas, the oil and gas industry has responded with a full spectrum of new equipment and capabilities for handling offshore spills or blowouts. A number of new well control/well containment groups have been formed, and they have been busy advancing their plans, technologies and services for the consideration of offshore operators and developers. Some of the key groups are described below.

Helix Well Containment Group

The Helix Well Containment Group (HWCG) was among the first of the new organizations formed to deal with containment requirements. HWGG is comprised of 24 deepwater energy companies with the mission of developing a comprehensive and rapid deepwater containment response system.

The existing containment system capabilities include:

  • The ability to operate in up to 10,000 ft of water
  • A 15,000 psig capping stack and a 10,000 psig capping stack
  • Intervention equipment to cap and contain a well with the mechanical and structural integrity to be shut in
  • The ability to capture and process 55,000 b/d of oil and 95 MMcfd of gas.

Marine Well Containment

The Marine Well Containment Co. (MWCC) was formed by a group of offshore operators to provide well control and containment capabilities. The MWCC is a not-for-profit, stand-alone organization committed to improving capabilities for containing an underwater well control incident in the US GoM. Membership is open to all oil and gas operators in the US GoM. MWCC is part of multiple industry efforts to improve prevention, well intervention and spill response.

MWCC recently announced that its interim system has met regulatory requirements for containment operations for deepwater drilling for wells under a floating production facility.

The Bureau of Ocean Energy, Management, Regulation and Enforcement (BOEMRE) has approved an ExxonMobil application to drill a new production well from the company's Hoover Diana floating production platform in 4,800 ft of water in the GoM.

MWCC's interim containment response system capping stack is engineered to be used in deepwater depths up to 10,000 ft. It includes a 15,000 psi capping stack. The company's expanded containment system is on track for delivery in 2012. It is being engineered for use in deepwater depths up to 10,000 ft with the capacity to contain 100,000 b/d of liquid and handle up to 200 MMcfd of gas. The expanded containment system will include two dedicated capture vessels.

The expanded containment system design includes use of capture vessels, modified tankers, existing drillships and/or extended well-test vessels, all of which can process, store, and offload the oil to shuttle tankers, which can then take the oil to shore for further processing.

Wild Well Control

Meanwhile, Wild Well Control has completed production on its Global Subsea Well Containment System (GSWCS). The GSWCS is a global response solution for managing the capping and containment efforts for emergency well control events worldwide. The system includes debris clearing equipment, dispersant injection package, a subsea capping stack (18-3/4-in., 15 m, 3 ram), and a response management system that includes planning and operational tools for the response.

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The Wild Well Control Subsea Capping Stack is designed for a worst case scenario and can be adapted to a specific event.

The GSWCS covers aspects for well capping, subsea containment, debris removal, and subsea dispersant designed for 10,000 ft water depth. The capping stack is maintained in transportable sizes for deployment from Aberdeen, UK, through vessels and air charter.

For the debris clearing activities, the 2500 series shears have successfully cut drilling riser at a water depth of 5,000 ft. The GSWCS is designed to manage well control events from the initial response to the dispersant application, debris removal, and installation of the capping stack.

Boots & Coots

Boots & Coots, a Halliburton service line, has more than 30 years of experience handling blowouts and well fires, including the Devil's Cigarette Lighter, Piper Alpha, and fires in Iraq and Nigeria. The company owns the largest fleet of jet cutters located strategically around the world.

During a live well emergency, Boots & Coots well control specialists have three goals: minimize response time, mitigate damage, and maximize safety.

In many situations, the company says, bull-heading drill fluids into a formation – one way of stopping a well fire – can cause unrecoverable wellbore damage. By using a hydraulic workover unit, the pipe can often be safely snubbed to control the well while preserving its integrity for future operation.

OSPRAG group

Meanwhile, the UK oil and gas industry has successfully tested its ability to deploy a well capping device in the waters west of Shetland. The Oil Spill Prevention and Response Advisory Group (OSPRAG) has undertaken a number of initiatives to improve well engineering and oil spill response capability, including the development of a well capping device for use in UK waters to seal-off an uncontrolled subsea oil well in the event of a major well control incident.

A recent Emergency Equipment Response Deployment (EERD) exercise simulated the logistical process of transporting a well capping device, loading it on to a vessel, and lowering it over the side before fixing it to a specially-built simulated well on the sea floor.

The exercise was project-managed and executed by Total E&P UK on behalf of Oil & Gas UK in block 206/4, around 75 km (47 mi)northwest of Shetland.

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