Subsea Well Blowout Drill Under Way
The Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement (BSEE) today initiated the first ever drill designed to deploy critical pieces of state-of-the-art well control equipment to the ultra-deep seabed of the Gulf of Mexico in an effort to exercise the oil and gas industry’s response to a potential subsea blowout. The multi-week exercise, launched at 8:10 am CDT and employing the Marine Well Containment Company (MWCC), is part of a series of planned and unannounced exercises and inspections conducted by BSEE to ensure the industry’s ability to meet the conditions of their oil spill response plans and effectively respond to a potential spill.
Following the Deepwater Horizon incident, the Interior Department undertook the most aggressive overhaul of oil and gas safety regulations in U.S. history. Included in these reforms is the expectation that companies would have access to and could deploy surface and subsea containment resources that would be adequate to promptly respond to a blowout or other loss of well control, several components of which are being tested in this exercise initiated today.
In May, Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar directed MWCC to conduct a live drill as an opportunity to deploy systems, test readiness for a worst-case scenario, and train under real-time conditions.
“This exercise will help further enhance industry’s preparedness by deploying one important component of their well control capabilities to the sea floor,” said BSEE Director Jim Watson. “Testing this equipment in real-time conditions and ultra-deep water depths will help ensure that the MWCC is ready and able to respond in a moment’s notice should the need arise.”
The demonstration is part of President Obama’s goal of expanded responsible production of our domestic energy resources while ensuring the strongest possible safety and environmental oversight of offshore oil and gas activities on the U.S. Outer Continental Shelf.
The exercise will involve the mobilization and field deployment of the capping stack to the sea floor in approximately 7,000 feet of water, latching it to a test wellhead, and pressurizing the system. The exercise is also designed to test an operator’s ability to obtain and schedule the deployment of the supporting systems necessary for successful containment – including debris removal equipment and other oil collection devices. The MWCC capping stack is similar to the one that was used to stop the flow of oil from the Deepwater Horizon well.
BSEE inspectors, engineers, and spill response experts will be embedded in various locations throughout the exercise, including in the command center and on the vessel deploying the capping stack, to oversee the mobilization, deployment, and associated tests of the system. BSEE experts will oversee the capping stack being lowered to the seafloor by wire, a technique that offers the potential to be significantly faster than the deployment via pipe that occurred during the Deepwater Horizon response.