Feds, industry workers finish test of emergency offshore equipment

05 08, 2013 by Fuel Fix

A week-long drill testing how the oil industry and federal regulators would respond to an out-of-control Gulf of Mexico well wrapped up late Monday, with government officials deeming the exercise a success.

The test, which began April 30, focused on the 20-foot-tall, 146,000-pound capping stack owned and operated by the Helix Well Containment Group, following a similar deployment drill with rival Marine Well Containment Co., last year. Over the course of a week, regulators and industry workers sought to deploy the capping stack at a Noble Energy test well located under 5,000 feet of water.

Inspired by the equipment finally used to arrest the 2010 Gulf oil spill, Helix’s stack is meant to cap a blown-out underwater well and halt the flow of hydrocarbons gushing from them. After the Gulf spill, federal regulators mandated that oil companies must prove they can contain a blowout before getting approval to drill in deep U.S. waters.

The exercise was meant to duplicate a real-life emergency scenario, with an oil company in Helix’s consortium, Noble Energy, learning of a simulated blowout and deploying the emergency containment system at its test well.

John Lewis, senior vice president of Noble Energy, said the drill demonstrated “quick and effective response to a deep-water well containment incident.”

Launched by the Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement, the exercise brought together representatives from the agency, Noble, Helix, Louisiana and the Coast Guard in a pseudo “unified command” structure to respond to the simulated accident. Workers were huddled in a Houston command center and out on the Gulf deploying the capping stack.

Representatives from some of the other 14 companies who are members of Helix’s containment consortium separately assessed the drill, which was halted briefly on May 2 and May 3, because of rough weather in the Gulf.

Because the member companies have a mutual aid agreement, there is a unique ability to quickly and effectively respond to an emergency call, said Roger Scheuermann, commercial director of Helix Well Containment Group.

“Mutual aid enables members to draw upon the collective technical expertise, assets and resources of the group in the event of an incident,” Scheuermann said. By relying on vessels an equipment that is already up and running — and fully staffed — Helix “helps ensure there is no down time for staffing or testing equipment readiness in a crisis situation,” Scheuermann added.

The challenge isn’t just sending a capping stack down to the site of the well, but arranging and managing an array of support vessels, staff and equipment that would be needed in an emergency.

Representatives from the Marine Well Containment Co., are set to discuss last year’s deployment drill at the Offshore Technology Conference in Houston on Tuesday.