A plan to build and deploy a rapid response system that will be available to capture and contain oil in the event of a potential future underwater well blowout in the deepwater Gulf of Mexico was announced today by Chevron, ConocoPhillips, ExxonMobil and Shell.
This contingency plan has no doubt come about as it has been recognised that the American public need reassurances that oil and gas companies are not behaving recklessly in the Gulf of Mexico. The latest drilling suspension also stipulated (in somewhat loose terms) that the suspension would only be lifted early if the industry could provide assurances that adequate containment and response measures are in place where drilling is taking place. If this fast response system is accepted by Congress then there could be a resumption of drilling in the Gulf of Mexico before November 30 2010, when the suspension is tabled to expire.
The new system is intended to be flexible, adaptable and able to begin mobilisation within 24 hours and can be used on a wide range of well designs and equipment, oil and natural gas flow rates and weather conditions. The new system will be engineered to be used in deepwater depths up to 10,000 feet and have initial capacity to contain 100,000 barrels per day with potential for expansion.
The companies have committed US$ 1 billion to fund the initial costs of the system. Additional operational and maintenance costs for the subsea and modular processing equipment, contracts with existing operating vessels in the Gulf of Mexico and any potential new vessels that may be constructed will increase this cost commitment.
This system offers key advantages to the current response equipment in that it will be pre-engineered, constructed, tested and ready for rapid deployment in the deepwater Gulf of Mexico. It is being developed by a team of marine, subsea and construction engineers from the four companies.
The system will include specially designed subsea containment equipment connected by manifolds, jumpers and risers to capture vessels that will store and offload the oil. Dedicated crews will ensure regular maintenance, inspection and readiness of the facilities and subsea equipment.
The four companies will form a non-profit organisation, the Marine Well Containment Company, to operate and maintain this system. Other companies will be invited and encouraged to participate in this organisation.
Work on this new containment system is being accelerated to enhance deepwater safety and environmental protection in the Gulf of Mexico, which accounts for 30% of U.S. oil and gas production and supports more than 170,000 American jobs.
The companies have reviewed the system with key officials in the federal Administration and Congress and will conduct briefings with other key stakeholders.
“As an industry, we must rebuild trust with the American people in order to demonstrate that we can produce energy in a safe and environmentally responsible manner,” said Marvin Odum, president, Shell Oil Company. “Beyond Shell’s absolute commitment to oil spill prevention and robust well designs, additional safeguards must be strengthened across the industry to develop the capacity to quickly respond and resolve a deepwater well blowout in the Gulf of Mexico, regardless of how unlikely it is that this situation will reoccur.”