API: Systems in place to strengthen offshore operations

A comprehensive reappraisal of offshore oil and gas safety and environmental protection practices by the industry since the April 2010 Macondo deepwater well blowout and oil spill has laid the foundation for significant improvements, an American Petroleum Institute official said.

“As a result of this work, and extensive resources devoted to safety that continue to draw on the best minds from the industry and government, we’ve established a multilayer system, with many built-in redundancies to help prevent incidents, to intervene and stop a release that might occur, and to manage and clean up spills,” Erik Milito, API’s upstream and industry operations group director, said during an Apr. 11 teleconference.

He emphasized that this was an industry-wide effort, which also involved the National Ocean Industries Association, the International Association of Drilling Contractors, and other US oil and gas trade associations as well as their foreign counterparts. US and foreign government participation also was crucial, he said.

Milito told reporters that this improved offshore oil and gas operations network has three primary elements: prevention, embodied in the industry’s Center for Offshore Safety, through industry drilling standards and the promotion of robust safety and environmental management systems; new innovative well containment and intervention capabilities; and improved planning and resources for oil spill response.

In a document describing specific steps, API noted that it has taken preventative measures by updating two standards: No. 53, covering blowout prevention systems for drilling wells, and No. 65-2, involving isolation of potential flow zones during well construction. It said it also has issued two new standards: Recommended Practice No. 96, covering deepwater well design and construction, and Bulletin 97, describing well construction interface document guidelines.

‘On the same page’

“I think this will be a key document,” Milito said of Bulletin 97. “This came from a recommendation of the president’s taskforce to put everyone on the same page.” It will have two sections, he explained. “One will bridge the well operator’s and drilling contractor’s safety and environmental management systems [SEMS] so that everyone understands what’s required,” he said. “The other will be well-specific, including design and risk assessments so everyone is aware of the risks with that well, with that rig, and with the well design.”

Independent third-party SEMS audits will be required to obtain an API RP 75 certification and satisfy US Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement requirements, according to Milito. “Developing these standards has brought the industry together to discuss these problems, with government participation,” he said. “In many respects, it’s enhancing the communication among the various participants in the well’s operation.”

In the area of well containment and intervention, API noted that the offshore oil and gas industry has invested heavily in deployable deepwater response vessels and systems capable of capping and stopping the flow of crude if there is ever a loss of control. Deployment and development of massive stacks weighing more than 100 tons was closely coordinated with BSEE, it indicated.

It said that two organizations—Marine Well Containment Co. and Helix Well Containment Group—were established by early 2011 to quickly deploy capping stacks, equipment, and vessels to operate in depths up to 10,000 ft, pressures up to 15,000 psi, and capacity of more than 50,000 b/d of oil and 90 MMcfd of gas.

Spill response efforts

API said spill response efforts include a 5-year program, with government collaboration, involving 25 research projects involving sensing and tracking, dispersant use and application, in-situ burning, mechanical recovery capabilities, shoreline protection and cleanup, and alternative response technologies.

It added that the oil and shipping industries created the Marine Preservation Association and Marine Spill Response Corp., which continue to operate, following federal passage of the 1990 Oil Pollution Act one year after the tanker Exxon Valdez ran aground and spill much of its crude oil cargo into Prince William Sound off Alaska.

API noted that the $2.4 billion Oil Spill Liability Trust Fund, which the industry supports and funds, ensures that immediate financial resources are available to pay for damages from a spill. The fund also covers payments to federal, state, and Indian tribes; provides states access for cleanup activities; and covers removal costs incurred by the US Coast Guard and US Environmental Protection Agency, API said.

Milito said the industry has always demonstrated a strong commitment to operate safely and responsibly offshore, and has deepened that the commitment in the nearly 2 years since the Macondo well accident. “The bar continues to rise, the commitment is stronger, and the mechanisms are in place to support the strongest safety standards possible,” he maintained.

Contact Nick Snow at nicks@pennwell.com.

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