Response systems focus on Gulf of Mexico

Overseas operators are tapping the U.S. developers of emergency response systems used in the Gulf of Mexico for advice to preventing similar catastrophic events in foreign waters.

During the Offshore Technology Conference, leaders of the Marine Well Containment Company and the Helix Energy Solutions Group spoke about how the 2010 Macondo well spill in the Gulf revealed deficiencies in the industry’s preparedness to respond to large-scale emergencies.

“As we came to the end of the containment process at Macondo, there was recognition that we were going to have to be able to deal with an incident like this more efficiently in the future, both for the good of the industry and the good of the environment,” Kurt Hurzeler, commercial manager for Helix, said.

The Helix Fast Response System uses a portfolio of techniques to respond to out-of-control deep-water wells, up to 10,000 feet below the water’s surface. It controls wells with pressures up to 10,000 psi by using various equipment, including a capping stack, intervention riser system, a well intervention vessel, heavy weather remote-operated underwater vehicles and a floating production unit that can process up to 55,000 barrels of oil per day.

The system has a 72-hour response time.

“The key was to deploy that quickly and take advantage of the very robust infrastructure and expertise available in the Gulf of Mexico,” Hurzeler said. “Very few other countries would be able to put together the scope of material, equipment and people that’s available in the Gulf of Mexico.”

The response systems contract only in the Gulf of Mexico to ensure response times stay low. The Marine Well Containment Group exchanges ideas with emergency response leaders in other countries, but Chief Executive Officer Marty Massey said the group isn’t looking to expand its own reach overseas.

Operators that contract with Marine Well operate 31 deep-water rigs in the Gulf, he said.

“They want the equipment here to support that high level of activity,” Massey said of the Gulf of Mexico operators that contract MWCC’s services. “We are going to stick with our focus in the Gulf of Mexico.”