May 2015

Offshore in depth

Five years after Macondo, the industry is better prepared to respond
Ron Bitto / Contributing Editor

The Deepwater Horizon accident five years ago was a wake-up call for offshore operators, who assumed they were well-prepared to respond to a subsea spill. The disaster potentially could have placed 70% of the world’s oil reserves off-limits, if the industry couldn’t provide a more effective response than the frustratingly slow effort used to control the Macondo well.

Gulf of Mexico response. In the wake of the incident, GOM operators shared their expertise and made significant investments to form two rapid response organizations.

Marine Well Containment Company (MWCC) is an independent organization funded by subscribing members that include Shell, Exxon Mobil, ConocoPhillips, Chevron, BP and five other companies. MWCC also provides coverage for non-member operators on a per-well basis. Its equipment and shore bases represent more than $1 billion in investment.

This Boeing 727 is one of two aircraft that OSRL is developing as a jet-based aerial dispersant platform. Courtesy of OSRL.
This Boeing 727 is one of two aircraft that OSRL is developing as a jet-based aerial dispersant platform. Courtesy of OSRL.

Capable of working in water depths down to 10,000 ft, MWCC’s well containment system includes three capping stacks rated between 10,000 psi and 15,000 psi, and two modular capture vessels (MCVs), as well as subsea umbilical riser and flowline equipment. The system can process 100,000 bpd of liquids and 200 MMcfgd. Each MCV can process up to 50,000 bpd, and has up to 700,000-bbl storage capacity, and can offload liquids to shuttle tankers.

MWCC stores and maintains dedicated equipment at shore bases in Ingleside, Texas, and Theodore, Ala., providing strategic coverage of the U.S. Gulf. “Response time varies, based on conditions on location,” said Don Armijo, MWCC’s CEO. “In a cap-only situation, where there is clear access to the wellhead, we can deploy within a week to 10 days; timelines are extended in cap-and-flow situations.”

The organization’s two MCVs perform lightering service in the Gulf and can be mobilized to MWCC’s shore base within five to eight days to be configured for capture operations.

MWCC has a full-time staff of about 70 people with operator and service company experience, many of whom worked on the Macondo containment. “We also have 100 reservists who are employed by Wood Group PSN,” Armijo said. “These men and women operate platforms throughout the Gulf and are fully trained in containment equipment operation. In the event of an incident, they will be mobilized to respond.”

MWCC’s Armijo believes that available containment technology can meet the requirements of wells being drilled today. “In 2017, deepwater drillers will be targeting reservoirs with 20,000 psi,” he said. “We are developing the technology to contain those pressures and respond, as necessary.”

HWCG LLC, a consortium of 16 independent operators, also was formed to respond quickly to subsea incidents in water depths down to 10,000 ft. HWCG has two dual ram capping stacks, and vessels to capture and process 130,000 bpd of fluid and 220 MMcfgd. HWCG has a dedicated joint command center at the PetroSkills Conference Center in Katy, Texas. It has a shared pool of assets, personnel and technical resources to support member companies. Its response vessels work daily in the Gulf, and can mobilize quickly, along with their experienced crews, as needed.

International response collaboration. The Macondo incident also prompted action from operators outside the GOM. The International Association of Oil and Gas Producers (IOGP) established the Global Industry Response Group (GIRG), drawing on the experience and talents of more than 100 technical experts and senior managers from 20 companies.

During a nine-month project, GIRG worked to understand and apply the lessons of Macondo, the 2009 Montara blowout in Australia and similar subsea well control incidents. IOGP formed three groups to carry out GIRG’s recommendations: the Wells Expert Committee (WEC), whose focus is prevention of incidents; the Oil Spill Response Joint Industry Project, which is working with API to evaluate recommendations and enhance coordination on oil spill response; and the Subsea Well Response Project (SWRP), a consortium to deliver improved capping response in support of containment solutions.

Since 2011, Oil Spill Response Ltd (OSRL) has collaborated with SWRP to enhance industry-wide capabilities to cap and contain uncontrolled subsea wells worldwide. OSRL is owned by 45 member companies and supports 100 associate members. OSRL now owns, stores and maintains intervention equipment in multiple global locations, which members can mobilize and deploy in the event of an incident.

The equipment consists of four capping stack systems located in Brazil, Norway, Singapore and South Africa, and two subsea incident response toolkits for subsea dispersant injection, BOP intervention and debris clearance. 

OSRL also has staged a global stockpile of 5,000 m3 (1.3 million gal) of dispersant, to respond to any major incident. Since 2012, OSRL has been working with T2 Aviation to develop a Boeing 727-based, jet aerial dispersant platform to enable a faster, longer-range aerial dispersant capability (see photo). Two aircraft should be available for response by the end of 2015.

“The establishment of this new international intervention capability, available to all operators via global storage bases, is a huge step forward for the industry,” said Robert Limb, CEO of OSRL.” wo-box_blue.gif 

About the Authors
Ron Bitto
Contributing Editor
Ron Bitto has more than 30 years of experience as a technology marketer and writer in the upstream oil and gas industry. RON.BITTO@GMAIL.COM
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