As part of the Obama administration’s ongoing efforts to strengthen the oil and gas industry’s ability to respond in the event of a deepwater blowout and ensure that offshore oil and gas production can continue to expand safely and responsibly, Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar charged the Marine Well Containment Company (MWCC) with conducting a live drill this summer to deploy critical pieces of state-of-the-art well control equipment in the Gulf of Mexico.
The exercise would demonstrate the ability of MWCC to mobilize a capping stack – a device similar to the one that stopped the flow of oil from the Deepwater Horizon’s well – in a timely fashion from its on-shore base to the deep water seabed of the Gulf.
This first-of-its-kind exercise will be overseen by Interior’s Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement (BSEE), which tests capping stacks on the surface as part of its overall responsibility to enforce the tougher offshore safety requirements implemented in response to the Deepwater Horizon explosion and oil spill.
“In the wake of the Deepwater Horizon explosion and oil spill, we undertook the most aggressive and comprehensive reforms to offshore oil and gas oversight in U.S. history, including requiring the industry to have immediate access to equipment and technologies that could stop another blowout,” said Salazar. “Our safety reforms are designed to reduce the chances that a capping stack would ever be needed again, but one thing Deepwater Horizon taught us is that you must always be ready to respond to the worst case scenario. This exercise is an opportunity to deploy systems, test readiness, and train under real-time conditions.”
“BSEE has made great strides in developing an effective and strong regulatory framework to support the offshore oil and gas program,” BSEE Director James Watson said. “We have tested MWCC and capping stacks repeatedly, but putting them through their paces in the deep waters of the Gulf will give us added confidence that they will be ready to go if needed.”
MWCC is one of two consortia that provide contract access to well containment equipment to oil and gas operators in the Gulf of Mexico. This equipment is required by BSEE for drilling with subsea blowout preventers in deepwater, among other situations. The other consortium, the Helix Well Containment Group, will complete a similar deployment exercise in the future.
The demonstration will involve the field deployment and testing of a capping stack as part of a larger scenario that will also test an operator’s ability to obtain and schedule the deployment of the supporting systems necessary for successful containment – including debris removal equipment and oil collection devices, such as top hats. The capping stack will be lowered to the seabed by wire, a technique that offers the potential to be significantly faster than the deployment via pipe that occurred during the Deepwater Horizon response.
As part of the exercise, BSEE will also analyze the results from tests conducted on the sea floor.
In October 2010, Secretary Salazar required that prior to receiving approval of a deepwater drilling permit, an operator must demonstrate that it has enforceable obligations that ensure that containment resources are available promptly in the event of a deepwater blowout.
Subsea World News Staff , May 25, 2012; Image: MWCC