Project aims to trade calendar for risk in maintaining BOPs

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WASHINGTON — Traditionally, the maintenance of emergency equipment used to safeguard oil wells boils down to following a calendar, with tests and repairs done periodically according to a pre-set schedule.

But oil companies, drilling contractors and manufacturers are collaborating on a project to shake up the way the emergency devices known as blowout preventers are kept in good condition. The endeavor, led by DNV GL, is designed to develop a risk-based methodology for maintaining BOPs that may be more effective and cost efficient than the current time-driven approach.

DNV GL, a classification and technical assurance company, announced the initiative Wednesday during an offshore oil conference in Stavanger, Norway.

The move comes as some offshore drilling regulators consider new requirements for blowout preventers, including changes to the ways they are maintained. In Norway, for instance, regulators have signaled an interest in risk-based maintenance.

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Regulators at the U.S. Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement are drafting new rules for blowout preventers, with the goal of boosting their capability and the assurance that they will work in an emergency.

The hulking devices are designed with multiple hydraulically driven rams, with some designed to slash through drill pipe and others meant to seal off well holes, keeping oil, gas and other liquids from flowing uncontrollably out of a well.

Existing U.S. mandates, updated in 2012, include requirements for regularly testing whether rams close on BOPs on the seafloor, using a remotely operated vehicle to trigger the device.

In the United States, offshore operators also must visually inspect BOPs on the surface on a daily basis, and investigate subsea blowout preventers at least once every three days. The task is generally done with cameras on remotely operated vehicles.

Rui Quadrado, a project manager at DNV GL, said a risk-based approach to maintaining blowout preventers could boost safety while lowering costs, partly by decreasing the amount of required downtime.

“Benefits include increased safety and operability by improving BOP performance,” Quadrado said in a statement. “Ultimately, this should deliver optimal maintenance planning, thereby reducing costs.”

Jennifer Dlouhy

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