BSEE: First deepwater well containment exercise a 'success'

The first full-scale deployment of critical well control equipment in response to a potential subsea blowout in the deepwater Gulf of Mexico was successful, the US Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement announced.

Marine Well Containment Co.’s capping stack system passed a pressurization test according to the scenario’s requirements, marking the end of an exercise that began July 24, BSEE Director James A. Watson said on July 30.

MWCC’s capping stack system is a 30-ft tall, 100-ton piece of equipment similar to the one that stopped the flow of crude oil from the deepwater Macondo well in 2010, the US Department of the Interior agency noted.

BSEE said MWCC and Shell Oil Co. deployed the system to a simulated well 200 miles offshore in the deepwater gulf, where it was lowered to a simulated wellhead (a preset parking pile) on the seafloor in 7,000 ft of water, connected to the wellhead, and pressurized to 10,000 psi.

“Through this demonstration, we effectively validated our ability to safely and effectively respond to a well control incident in the deepwater US Gulf of Mexico,” MWCC Chief Executive Marty Massey separately said in Houston.

The mobilization, function, and pressure testing performed as expected and were within the anticipated timeline, Massey said. The capping stack and associated equipment are being towed back to shore and will be available for further mobilization, he added.

Watson said BSEE engineers, inspectors, and oil spill response specialists are evaluating the deployment operations and identifying lessons which were learned, including securing mud mats for the subsea accumulator skid (SSAS).

SSAS provides hydraulic fluid necessary to close the capping stack’s ram and associated valves, Watson explained. A successful workaround used in the exercise and no critical failures or problems have been noted in the demonstration so far, he added.

Massey said the demonstration’s success is the result of a strong collaboration between government and industry, particularly Shell and MWCC’s nine other members. More than 55 deepwater drilling permits which cited the MWCC system have been approved, he noted.

John Hollowell, executive vice-president of Shell Upstream Americas, said the company was proud of the industry’s ability to successfully demonstrate MWCC’s containment system. “This is an important tool in our emergency response efforts, but our focus remains on any and all incidents,” Hollowell said.

Contact Nick Snow at nicks@pennwell.com.

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