Business News

Oil-spill tests aim to minimize future disasters

by Jeremy Alford

The largest energy outfits in the Gulf have teamed up to create the Marine Well Containment Co., aiming to improve rapid response to future oil spills.

In a simulated crisis staged by the federal government in late July, it took a nonprofit response team just under five days to deploy and attach capping equipment to a wellhead 7,000 feet deep in the Gulf of Mexico.

Compare that to the 85 days it took in 2010 to cap BP's free-flowing well, which allowed more than 200 million gallons of crude oil to escape.

In response, the largest energy outfits in the Gulf teamed up to create the Marine Well Containment Co., which aims to facilitate rapid response to future oil spills.

Marine Well's capping equipment stands roughly 30 feet tall, 14 feet wide and weighs about 100 tons.
The test, which was overseen by the U.S. Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement, was the first of its kind in deepwater conditions.

CEO Marty Massey says any drilling company that uses Marine Well's services are better positioned than ever to explore and produce responsibly.

"This demonstration is further proof that we have the right people, processes and equipment in place to be continuously ready to respond," Massey says.

Before his resignation, Louisiana Department of Natural Resources Secretary Scott Angelle (he left the office to run for Public Service Commissioner in District 2) was briefed on the simulation by James Watson, director of the U.S. Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement.

Crews prepared and transported the equipment from Laney Chouest in Houston, landed it on the test wellhead, lowered it 6,900 feet, latched on and pressurized the system, Angelle says.

He notes that the results left him "very bullish" on the prospects of the Gulf and the "sophisticated" containment system developed by Marine Well.

"This is another step in returning confidence to the industry that it will be allowed to operate and develop the plentiful domestic energy resources available in the Gulf of Mexico," Angelle says.

Marine Well is a partnership originally forged by Chevron, ConocoPhillips, ExxonMobil and Shell. The initial capital outlay eclipsed $1 billion for design and construction.

Other deepwater operators have since joined Marine Well, including Anadarko, Apache, BHP Billiton, BP, Hess and Statoil.
Inspectors with the U.S. Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement monitored the demonstration from Marine Well headquarters.

Watson says he met with Marine Well and Shell to witness the various deployment phases and participated in daily Unified Command briefings with the U.S. Department of Interior.

"The successful completion of this deployment demonstration is significant to the safe advancement of deepwater exploration," Watson says.

To date, more than 55 deepwater drilling permits for the Gulf of Mexico that cite the Marine Well system have been approved by the federal government.

Jeremy Alford can be reached at [email protected].