Four of the largest oil companies have pledged $1 billion to build a rapid response system designed to capture and contain oil in the event of another Macondo-style blowout in the deepwater Gulf of Mexico.
In a July 21 joint announcement, Chevron, ConocoPhillips, ExxonMobil and Shell said the money would fund initial costs of a pre-engineered and tested system that could begin mobilization within 24 hours of a blowout in water depths of up to 10,000ft. The four companies will set up a separate, nonprofit organization, the Marine Well Containment Company, to operate and maintain the system.
The supermajors vowed to begin assembling the system's various pieces immediately, with ExxonMobil overseeing engineering, procurement and construction of equipment and vessels.
The industry hopes to persuade the Obama administration to lift the six-month moratorium on deepwater drilling implemented following the loss of the Deepwater Horizon, which threatens to drag down the Gulf of Mexico regional economy. The rapid response system, along with work being done by various safety and prevention task forces, could provide lawmakers balancing environmental and economic concerns political cover to push for a lifting of the ban.
‘If we all do our jobs properly, this system will never be used,' said ExxonMobil chairman and CEO Rex Tillerson.
‘The extensive experience of industry shows that when the focus remains on safe operations and risk management, tragic incidents like the one we are witnessing in the Gulf of Mexico today should not occur.'
The system will include a newly designed containment assembly equipped with adapters and connectors that can be attached to points on a wellhead, blowout preventer stack, lower marine riser package and casing strings. The assembly will be designed to prevent hydrate formation and blockage, the companies said.
The system will also include capture caisson assemblies that could form a seal with the seabed to enclose a damaged connector or leak outside the well casing.
Hydrate formation from hydrocarbon interaction with frigid seawater thwarted some of BP's early attempts to capture and contain spillage at the Macondo well.
Other subsea components will include flexible pipes, a manifold, accumulator unit, dispersant unit and risers to transport oil and gas to surface vessels, which will have the ability to disconnect and reconnect quickly in the event of a storm.
BP and federal officials have been criticized for the trial-and-error efforts to stem the Macondo flow. A containment assembly atop the well's failed BOP, similar to the cap in the supermajors' proposal, was not installed until almost three months into the disaster.
‘As an industry, we must rebuild trust with the American people in order to demonstrate that we can produce energy in a safe and environmentally responsible manner,' said Shell president Marvin Odum. ‘Beyond Shell's absolute commitment to oil spill prevention and robust well designs, additional safeguards must be strengthened across the industry to develop the capacity to quickly respond and resolve a deepwater well blowout in the Gulf of Mexico, regardless of how unlikely it is that this situation will reoccur.' OE