Drilling to independence

Latin America's goal for energy independence is tied to its offshore oil and gas reserves. Experts from the illustrious O&G LA 20 committee believe that the offshore sector will become even more important in the future as the industry shifts to deeper waters.

A spokesperson for the committee set to meet in Rio de Janeiro early next year, chaired by Juan Carlos Zepeda, President  CNH, Tomas Vargas, Vice President BPZ and Guimar Vaca Coca, MD Americas Petrogas stated this week “There is an apparent need to expand on the offshore services available. Whether it’s deploying workers on and off rigs, improving offshore safety, or making sure subsea construction is done as efficient as possible, marine servicing has expanded thoroughly throughout the Americas.”

But rapid expansion in offshore developments comes with tremendous risk. The recent oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico highlighted how susceptible deepwater drilling has become, and how difficult a leak is to suppress at such depths. But oil extractors are left with no choice but to drill to such depths, as the global demand for crude increases, whilst shallow wells become exhausted.

Drilling deeper – to lengths greater than a mile – requires technically demanding drilling and complex equipment and seriously reduces the room for error. And as those who witnessed the spread of crude throughout the Gulf of Mexico, it also makes stemming the flow and repairing crippled riser pipes and underwater wells that much more challenging.

The catastrophe in the Gulf of Mexico bares stark comparisons with the Lusi mud volcano in Indonesia, which many commentators have suggested was triggered by deep exploratory drilling in an environment with little-to-no room for error. In the Lusi case, those drilling failed to seal the well, which eventually led to the blow-out of catastrophic proportions. Like the Gulf of Mexico spill, both deep drilling adventures have caused a catastrophic impact on the environment.

With demand increasing, and supply dwindling, simple maths dictates that more catastrophic spills and blowouts are likely on the horizon. More drilling will take place in environmental hot spots and difficult areas, where accidents like the Gulf of Mexico spill - major, hard to stem leaks - are likely to happen with more frequency. Safety regulations should be evolving to adjust to this new reality, resulting in better legislation for equipment like blowout valves and shut-off triggers, and the necessary equipment in place to tackle a sprung leak.

And it is with this in mind, Latin America must tread carefully whilst securing energy independence. It will be imperative for those attending the O&G LA 20 in Rio de Janeiro to outline the safest practices whilst expanding its energy quotas. 

Author: Ross Densly, NG Online News.

Published on 02/11/2010

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