Exxon-led spill containment group debuts deeper-water system

The Marine Well Containment Company, a non-profit consortium of major oil companies led by Exxon Mobil Corp., said today  it has begun offering a system capable of containing oil spills in 10,000 feet of water in the Gulf of Mexico, an improvement over a previous 8,000-foot system.

The beefed-up equipment, like its predecessor, is capable of capturing 60,000 barrels of oil per day from a leaking well, roughly equivalent to the daily amount of crude that gushed from BP’s blown-out Macondo well last year. But with the higher water-depth rating, it will be able to service more Gulf wells.

“This increase in our capability demonstrates our commitment to providing a comprehensive deepwater well containment system for the U.S. Gulf of Mexico,” Marty Massey, CEO of Marine Well Containment Co., or MWCC, said in a statement.

Next year, MWCC plans offer an expanded system, capable of collecting up to 100,000 barrels of oil per day and 200 million cubic feet per day of natural gas.

The equipment is a response to tougher safety and environmental regulations in the Gulf following the April 2010 Deepwater Horizon rig explosion, which killed 11 workers and launched the nation’s worst oil spill. Before winning permits to drill in the deep water Gulf, oil companies are now required to prove they have access to containment systems able to halt even a worst-case spill from the wells.

In April, MWCC announced that the centerpiece of its new well containment unit, a 100-ton capping stack, was ready for use in the Gulf. A separate system, by Helix Energy Solutions, has also been approved by regulators for deployment. Separately, Houston’s Wild Well Control has begun marketing a spill c0ntainment system for international offshore basins.  

But, despite having the equipment available, the oil and gas industry still complains Interior Department regulators are taking too long to approve new deep-water drilling permits in the Gulf, even though a post-spill ban on most of that activity was lifted in October. Regulators say they are moving as fast as they can, given the raft of new requirements operators must satisfy before receiving permits.