Oil spill response group unveils expanded system

03 01, 2012 by The Times-Picayune

The Marine Spill Response Corp., a nonprofit set up to help major oil companies respond to offshore spills, announced that it has completed a major expansion in the Gulf of Mexico. As the massive federal trial over the April 2010 BP oil spill is about to begin, the company used by BP and other oil giants said it had finished its "Deep Blue" program to give Gulf operators more resources to quickly respond to any future spills.

The Marine Spill Response Corp. has been in existence since 1990, but its resources struggled to respond to the massive BP spill. Although the group's spokeswoman, Judith Roos, said its member companies have committed more than $2 billion over the last two decades to develop surface spill response systems, she told The USA Today shortly after the BP spill that it had no budget for research.

The Gulf found itself woefully short on absorbant boom and enough ships capable of skimming oil off the surface when BP's oil flowed out of control for 87 days in 2010. So overwhelmed were spill responders, in fact, that even celebrities like actor Kevin Costner came out of the woodwork to promote new cleanup systems. Several had to be developed and tested on the fly by private companies and the government in an effort to keep up. One such invention, a massive skimming tanker called A Whale, was promoted by a Taiwanese firm as an oil-gulping savior, but it arrived in the U.S. only to fail multiple government tests.

Marine Spill Response Corp. is touting its Deep Blue program as a major improvement. It adds more dedicated spill response and recovery platforms, contracts with vessel operators like Louisiana-based Edison Chouest Offshore and Hornbeck Offshore Services to have their ships at the ready, and enhancements like infrared scanners and other technology to help find spilled oil more quickly.

Also, the group announced that it has expanded its capabilities for deploying chemical dispersants to break up spilled oil and developed better oil-burning operations. Its Deep Blue Responder vessel has now been moved to Port Fourchon, La., to be able to get to a deepwater spill more quickly, too.

There are now seven dedicated response vessels positioned within 60 hours of any deepwater Gulf oil lease, and Marine Spill Response Corp. also purchased more than 21,000 feet of boom, the largest such inventory of a private response firm, the firm said.

Company president and CEO Steve Benz thanked the member companies, including BP, its partner in the ill-fated Macondo well Anadarko, Chevron, ExxonMobil, ConocoPhillips and Shell, for their investment in the Deep Blue effort.

Those same operators and others are also part of a group called the Marine Well Containment Corp., which invested $1 billion in developing response systems for below the surface of the water. That project includes a capping stack for shutting in a blown-out deepwater well. MWCC completed an interim response system last February, based mostly on what eventually closed in BP's Macondo well in 2010. It has promised to finish a final response system by some time this year.

A third consortium, Helix Well Containment, has developed another sub-sea response system for independent operators. The response groups ramped up efforts when federal regulators said a strong response system had to be in place for companies to resume oil and gas exploration in Gulf leases.