Two years after Macondo, BP launched an all-out effort at OTC 2012 to demonstrate its commitment to safety and to its future in the Gulf of Mexico. Russell McCulley reports.
Among the many legacies of the 2010 Deepwater Horizon blowout is what's shaping up to be a surfeit of Macondo-style capping stacks around the world. The UK’s Oil Spill Prevention Response Advisory Group unveiled a capping system for North Sea water depths last year. BP has a deepwater capping stack housed in Angola. The Marine Well Control Company and Helix Energy Services Group each developed containment systems for the Gulf of Mexico, and last September Wild Well Control unveiled a global subsea well containment system which can be deployed from Aberdeen anywhere in the world in a matter of days.
Just last month, the industry cooperative Oil Spill Response awarded a contract to Trendsetter Engineering for the construction of four 10,000ft water depth rated capping stack systems to be stored in four strategic locations – Northern Europe, South America, Africa, and Asia-Pacific – from 2013 onwards. Trendsetter also recently completed work on an Arctic capping stack to support Shell’s upcoming shallow water drilling campaign in the Beaufort and Chukchi seas.
Already one of the ten operators in the MWCC consortium, BP used this year’s recent Offshore Technology Conference in Houston to introduce its own mobile well cap and tooling package, a 500t system that the company claims can be air-deployed to any deepwater region where BP operates in 10 days.
‘As you can imagine, we are looking at risk in BP much differently than two years ago,’ said Richard Morrison, who heads BP’s global deepwater response division, during a tour of the Houston warehouse where the capping stack will be stored. Deepwater Horizon, he admitted, ‘just about took this company down’.
The main elements of the new capping stack are a converted 15,000psi production tree, which forms the lower section, and an upper assembly with two gate valves to shut in a leaking well. A flowback assembly can be mounted atop the device.
The nearly 250 remaining pieces of kit include 60in pipe shears, a subsea accumulator system for hydraulic fluid, a dispersant distribution system, an ROV tooling package, debris removal equipment and adapters that can be used to install the system on the well’s BOP, atop the lower marine riser package or directly on the wellhead.
Deploying the global capping system presents a logistical challenge, to say the least: about 50 lifts, the heaviest around 70t, and some three dozen trailer loads to get the kit from its Houston storage site to the airport. From there, it will require five Antonov 124 and two Boeing 747-200 heavy-lift aircraft to deliver the goods to an airport in one of the deepwater regions where the company operates – or has plans to expand, such as India, Asia-Pacific, and the Caribbean. Some lack the necessary infrastructure to accommodate jumbo jets and to get the equipment off the planes and into the field.
‘Most of these oil regions we work in have crossed that barrier,’ Morrison said of the infrastructure challenges. ‘The emerging and new hubs, we’re still working on.’
BP has also beefed up its emergency response capabilities in relief well drilling, spill response and crisis management, director of well control Andy Frazelle told a lunch crowd at a pre-OTC event sponsored by the Houston chapter of the Marine Technology Society.
‘Well control wasn’t really something that was thought about’ prior to Macondo, Frazelle said. ‘It was thought about, but we didn’t have that deep technical expertise within BP. What we did was rely on our service providers to come in and help us out.’
Frazelle’s position, along with the global deepwater response team, was created after the April 2010 disaster. ‘Now we have put together a team of in-house expertise, including BOP experts, subsea engineers with control expertise, relief well planners and well control specialists to help build our response plan.’
BP now requires any BOP operated by a deepwater DP rig to include two sets of blind shear rams and one casing shear ram. The company has committed to working with other operators to share lessons from Macondo, says Frazelle, adding that the industry as a whole should be more aggressive about capturing and sharing ‘failure data’ that can be factored into risk models.
At OTC, BP touted its ‘20K’ project, a multifaceted R&D effort to increase HP/HT capability from the current industry limit of 15,000psi and 275°F to 20,000psi and 350-400°F – ‘in many ways, the next chapter in deepwater’, BP EVP of developments Bernard Looney told an assembly at OTC. The technology will be necessary to develop projects in the Gulf of Mexico Lower Tertiary, which includes BP’s Kaskida and Tiber discoveries.
‘Over the next decade, we will work with others to develop an integrated system, from the rig to the risers and the subsea, all the way to the well and the ability to intervene’ at the 20K threshold, Looney said.
Such a system could include subsea valves weighing up to 20 tons, advanced sensing and monitoring equipment, and 70ft-tall BOPs weighing more than 1 million pounds, he said. ‘It will also require a huge investment, the kind of investment no one company can do alone.’
BP plans to spend $4 billion in the Gulf of Mexico this year and ‘at least that much every year over the next decade’, he said. The company has five rigs working in the gulf: two at the Thunder Horse development, two at Atlantis and one rig at Kaskida. By the end of 2012, Looney said, BP will bring an additional three rigs into the deepwater Gulf of Mexico.
Those targets are surprising, perhaps, considering the post-Macondo speculation, even within the company, that BP might not return to the region, or to any deepwater markets. After Macondo, Morrison said, ‘we took a hard look at whether we wanted to be in this business, this deepwater business. And we concluded that we did.’ OE