Helix Producer could be collecting spilled oil by July 7

Paula Dittrick
OGJ Senior Staff Writer

HOUSTON, July 2 -- The Helix Producer, a floating production unit, is onsite above the runaway Macondo well in the Gulf of Mexico and will be hooked up to flexible pipe and a floating riser enabling the Producer to collect oil and gas once the weather allows, an oil spill response officials said July 2.

The Helix Producer will join Transocean Ltd.’s Discoverer Enterprise drillship and the Helix Q4000 multiservice vessel in collecting oil and gas from the deepwater well on Mississippi Canyon Block 252. The spill stems from a blowout of the Macondo well, operated by BP PLC. Transocean’s Deepwater Horizon semisubmersible was drilling the well when 11 people were killed by an Apr. 20 explosion and fire on the rig.

National Incident Commander and retired US Coast Guard Adm. Thad Allen said on July 2 that installation of the Producer might start within 48 hr and could be completed by July 7, pending weather disruptions or problems. Hurricane Alex, which made landfall in Mexico July 1, caused choppy seas and wind gusts in the oil spill area, preventing the Producer from being installed by June 30 as originally planned.

Together, the Enterprise and Q4000 collected 25,154 bbl for the 24-hr period ending at midnight on July 1. The Producer will add another 20,000-25,000 b/d of collection capacity.

Weather associated with Alex has stopped oil skimmers from working, but Allen said those skimmers are on standby to return to work once the seas calm. He said airplane surveys are planned to find where any oil might have been pushed into marshes as a result of the rough weather.

Contingency plans
Bob Dudley, BP’s chief of Gulf Coast restoration, said BP and the government are considering other options to divert the flow of oil from spilling in the gulf in case two relief wells now being drilled were to fail to kill the well.

Dudley’s comments came during an interview with the PBS NewsHour on July 1. The interview was part of a collaboration with Google and YouTube. The public was able to submit questions to Dudley.

Calling the deepwater oil spill “just a very unusual problem,” Dudley said the company's first relief well is being drilled vertically parallel to Macondo and must go down another 600 ft before casing is added and another kill attempt is made.

Dudley noted that the success of the two relief wells being drilled is not guaranteed.

“If those don't work, we're working with the government on another series of options to direct and divert flow from well,” he said, declining to release any details.

Allen previously told reporters that the government and BP are discussing the possibility of laying pipeline from the Macondo well to existing platforms within 5 miles and putting Macondo oil into other reservoirs that are depleted. No details have been released as to which platforms are under consideration.

Speaking on July 2, Allen said another option would be for the second relief well to succeed if the first relief well fails. The third option would be to continue collecting oil and gas from Macondo and bringing it to the surface for processing.

BP is in the process of installing a second floating riser intended to eventually help boost total collection capacity to 80,000 b/d. A team of government scientists has estimated the flow rate of the spill at 35,000-60,000 b/d.

Contact Paula Dittrick at paulad@ogjonline.com.

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