UK government says deepwater rules adequate

Paula Dittrick
OGJ Senior Staff Writer

HOUSTON, Mar. 22 -- The UK government Mar. 22 issued a report saying existing deepwater oil and gas drilling rules address most concerns raised by the parliamentary Energy and Climate Change Committee following the Macondo well blowout and spill in the Gulf of Mexico.

The report was a joint response including contributions from the UK Department of Energy and Climate Change, the Health and Safety Executive, the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, and the Department for Business Innovation and Skills.

The joint response stemmed from questions raised by the Energy and Climate Change Committee in January regarding the oil industry’s preparedness to respond in case of a North Sea deepwater well blowout and oil spill.

“We conclude that the UK has high offshore regulatory standards,” the report said. “The UK regulatory framework is based on flexible, goal-setting principles that are superior to those under which the Deepwater Horizon operated.”

The Deepwater Horizon semisubmersible drilling rig, owned by Transocean Ltd., sank in April 2010 after an explosion and fire followed loss of control of the Macondo well, operated by BP PLC, in 5,000 ft of water off Louisiana.

“Despite the high regulatory standards in the UK, we are concerned that the offshore oil and gas industry is responding to disasters, rather than anticipating worst-case scenarios and planning for high-consequence, low-probability events,” the government report said.

Regarding concerns from lawmakers about the ability of oil spill response equipment to function in the harsh environment west of the Shetland Island, the government report said that has been addressed. Chevron Corp. developed a cap that can seal a blowout in this area, and the equipment is available to industry. Additional capping equipment is being developed.

Chevron’s equipment is kept in the Aberdeen area. The capping device is designed to be deployed from any vessel with adequate position-keeping, lifting, and remotely operated vehicle capability, the report said, noting that weather and sea state can impose limitations on any marine operations.

Offshore trade group Oil & Gas UK issued a response to the government report, saying it welcomed the recommendation that there should not be a moratorium on deepwater drilling n the UK sector of the North Sea.

The government said it and industry are assessing blowout preventers and whether BOPs should be upgraded to include additional blind shear rams. Failure of a single blind-shear ram on the Deepwater Horizon BOP seems to have contributed to the Macondo well blowout, the UK government report said.

OGUK suggested the government be cautious in its review of equipment requirements.

“We believe that building in the additional redundancy of two blind shear rams across the entire UKCS is unnecessary and may actually impede both operational capacities and the safe operation of some installations,” OGUK noted. “We also fear that this could imply an over-reliance on one barrier or piece of equipment. Whilst the BOP is of course an essential safety component, it is but one of several safety barriers which should be in place.”

Contact Paula Dittrick at paulad@ogjonline.com.

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