Macondo Blowout Spawns a Pair of Containment Firms in Gulf of Mexico
- Stephen Rassenfoss (JPT Online Staff Writer)
- Document ID
- Society of Petroleum Engineers
- Journal of Petroleum Technology
- Publication Date
- April 2011
- Document Type
- Journal Paper
- 42 - 45
- 2011. Copyright is held partially by SPE. Contact SPE for permission to use material from this document.
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A year after the blowout that destroyed the Deepwater Horizon platform and triggered an oil spill that lasted for months, two companies with strong ties to the effort that shut off that well are competing to be the containment firm of choice for deepwater operators in the US Gulf of Mexico (GOM)—Marine Well Containment Corporation (MWCC) and Helix Well Containment Group. In mid-February, MWCC rolled out its interim containment system built around a mix of new equipment and components used by BP last year to shut down the Macondo well. The venture was created in July 2010 by ExxonMobil with Chevron, ConocoPhillips, and Shell. In September BP joined, contributing a variety of hardware, including a manifold, flexible pipe, a riser assembly, and containment devices, including the “top hat.”
The Helix Fast Response System is built around the two vessels that became a familiar site in the aerial photos of the fleet of boats used to choke off the output from Macondo—the Q4000 which served as a production platform and the Helix Producer I that processed the crude and offloaded it to tankers.
At the end of February, Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, Regulation, and Environment (BOEMRE) issued the first deepwater drilling permit. It gave Noble Energy permission to complete a well on its Santiago prospect that it had to stop drilling in June 2010, because of the moratorium after the Macondo blowout. It named Helix as its well containment provider.
Having approved deepwater emergency response options is an essential part of getting approval for a deepwater drilling permit application. A regulation from BOEMRE—NTL 2010-N10—requires anyone who wants to drill to provide detailed information on how it could react quickly and effectively in the event of a blowout.
Compliance requires more than naming an approved provider. Documentation running more than a thousand pages long answers many of the questions that could speed emergency responses—from detailed descriptions of the well hardware to well design integrity studies intended to help answer a question that slowed the Macondo response—can the well stand up to the pressure if it is capped?
In creating their systems, both companies followed a similar approach: relying on well-established, reliable designs, components, and technology, and working closely with regulators to be sure the systems complied with their reading of the new rules.
Even after BOEMRE approves a system, operators seeking drilling permits will still need to convince regulators that the emergency response company has the capability to deal with a worst-case discharge from that well, said Ken Arnold, a member of SPE’s GOM Incident Response Task Force. The task force held a workshop with industry and academic experts to study the rule. It created a document offering guidelines based on how to estimate the dimensions of an incident “where everything in the world has to go wrong.”
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