Plan for oil-containment system progressing

11 02, 2011 by Daily Comet

One of the most aggressive safety campaigns launched in the wake of last year's oil spill may have come from the oil industry. And there are now signs that the federal government is finding favor with the approach.

Not long after the fatal blowout of BP's Macondo well in April 2010, some of America's largest energy companies invested more than $1 billion in a nonprofit model that's dedicated solely to deepwater spill response.

BP is among the 10 companies that formed the Houston-headquartered Marine Well Containment Company. The others are Chevron, ConocoPhillips, ExxonMobil, She n ll, Apache, Anadarko, BHP Billiton, Statoil and Hess.

Collectively, MWCC's members are responsible for more than 70 percent of the Gulf's drilling activity. They all have equal votes and have put up equal investments.

The nonprofit isn't exclusive; any drilling outfit can contract with MWCC for their services.

And with federal safety guidelines being overhauled, it has become an efficient way for oil companies to expedite the permitting process, said Martin Massey, president of MWCC.

“You have to demonstrate you have the system and the resources and the capability to deploy and cap a well and that's what our system does,” said Massey, a Louisiana native on loan to the nonprofit from ExxonMobil.

MWCC has developed a capping stack, like the one deployed to handle the Deepwater Horizon spill. It can operate in water depths up to 10,000 feet.

The capping stack is the centerpiece and is designed to cap or contain the flow of hydrocarbons in a deepwater well-control incident.

It can handle pressures of up to 15,000 pounds per square inch. It has also met the requirements of the Bureau of Ocean Energy, Management, Regulation and Enforcement.

MWCC likewise maintains a containment dome and dispersant tools.

If any of the member energy giants supporting MWCC experience a blowout or spill, this is the system that comes to the rescue.

In early September, the Bureau of Ocean Energy, Management, Regulation and Enforcement approved a drilling permit for Petrobras America to establish a development well at a depth of 8,200 feet.

MWCC is cheering the move because Petrobras officials cited its system as part of its safety plans.

The Petrobras drilling plan is also an example of how a non-member organization can contract with MWCC for its services if needed.

“Even if an operator is not a member of MWCC, our system can be made available on a well-by-well basis and cited in respective applications for permits to drill,” said Massey.

MWCC is working on an expanded containment system, which is on track for delivery in 2012.

Massey said it's all being done in an effort to advance capping technology and to be prepared for whatever the future might hold.

“This containment system greatly improves our ability to protect the Gulf,” he said. “The fact that we have this system, it's being maintained, we have a company that is there and ready to respond in case there is an incident. That's our commitment.”

A few weeks ago, MWCC announced the delivery of an integral component to its expanded containment system: a new Aframax tanker.

Named “Eagle Texas” in a recent ceremony in Takamatsu, Japan, the tanker will be operated by AET Tanker Holdings.

The Eagle Texas will soon undergo extensive conversion and modification before taking up duties in the U.S. Gulf of Mexico.

“This tanker is critical to our expanded containment system, which will be operational next year,” Massey added.

The Eagle Texas is one of two dedicated capture vessels that will serve as part of MWCC's expanded containment system, which is being engineered for use in deepwater depths of up to 10,000 feet with the capacity to process up to 100,000 barrels of liquid and handle up to 200 million standard cubic feet of gas per day.

The nonprofit is presently visiting Gulf Coast states to find future containment sites where resources can be deployed in an emergency.

Obviously, Louisiana officials want to be home to at least one. Chris John, president of the Louisiana Mid-Continent Oil and Gas Association, said Louisiana has made a case to get a piece of MWCC on its coastline. And he predicts Louisiana will get the “lion's share” of the deal.

But more so than anything else, John said MWCC is evidence that the industry can be proactive.

“The oil and gas industry remained committed to the highest levels of safety by voluntarily creating and designing the Marine Well Containment Company,” John said. “This is part of an effort to improve prevention, well-intervention and spill response.”

Massey said he expects MWCC to make an official announcement later this year or in early 2012.

“It's actually going to depend on our assessment of the capabilities, I think, of the individual shore bases — what they can handle, what they can't handle — and then analyzing that versus the environment we're going to be in,” he said.