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After Macondo: well capping devices flood marketplace.

THE months following Deepwater Horizon's explosion and oil spill on the Macondo Prospect in the Gulf of Mexico were long ones for environmentalists, the US Government and the offshore industry alike. The fact that repeated attempts to cap the wellhead were unsuccessful made the three-month ordeal all the more tortuous.

In the wake of the spill, the industry and the wider world has switched on to the possibility of a similar disaster occurring again. Particularly given the increasing depths at which deepwater platforms are now operating, the logistics behind capping a leaking well are mind-boggling.

As a result, a number of emergency well capping devices are concurrently in development or under construction now.

Some are intended and tailored for use in particular offshore regions, while others are being offered to oil companies as a kind of global insurance policy against any future disasters.

In Houston, the Marine Well Containment Company (MWCC), a non-profit organisation formed after the Deepwater Horizon disaster and dedicated to improving spill response in the Gulf of Mexico, has developed a containment system for use in the Gulf in the event of an emergency.

The current system is an interim version of the company's final expanded well capping device, but can still contain up to 60,000 barrels per day (bpd) of oil with the ability to withstand 15,000 pounds per square inch (psi) of pressure.

The expanded version in development will be able to contain up to 100,000 bpd of oil.

"Given the increasing depths at which deepwater platforms are now operating, the logistics behind capping a leaking well are mind-boggling.

"MWCC announced earlier this month that its interim system had been cleared for containment operations in water depths of up to 10,000 ft, a significant increase on its previous 8,000 ft threshold and a clear sign of the need for modern well capping devices to be deployable in even the most challenging conditions.

"This increase in our capability demonstrates our commitment to providing a comprehensive deepwater well containment system for the US Gulf of Mexico," says MWCC CEO Marty Massey.

"Our goal is to continually advance deepwater well containment technology to keep pace with our member companies' needs," he adds.

The UK Continental Shelf (UKCS) has an excellent safety record in its several decades of offshore oil and gas operations, and the industry wants to keep it that way. "There has not been a single blow-out in this country in over 20 years of UK offshore operations and we must ensure that it remains this way," said UK industry body Oil & Gas UK's Malcolm Webb in March this year.

Part of this commitment is a new well capping device for the region, conceived and developed by the Oil Spill Prevention and Response Advisory Group (OSPRAG) in conjunction with BP and engineering firm JP Kenny, and owned by Oil Spill Response.

Having been quickly designed and commissioned, the device is currently being built by Cameron in Leeds, with factory acceptance testing due in July.

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Publication:Oil & Gas News
Geographic Code:0GULF
Date:Sep 5, 2011
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