Offshore industry has worst-case scenario technology at four strategic sites

HOUSTON — The energy industry has deployed technology in four strategic sites worldwide that’s designed to stop the most devastating offshore blowouts.

“Hopefully we’ll never have to use it,” said Andrzej Kaczmarski of the Subsea Well Response Project, a non-profit joint initiative of the companies.  But, he added, “we’ll be ready if anything … is needed.”

Kaczmarski spoke about the project, launched in 2011, during the Offshore Technology Conference at NRG Park in Houston on Monday. The project was the result of a recommendation by the International Association of Oil & Gas Producers on the heels of the Deepwater Horizon offshore blowout in 2010.

The focus is on developing and figuring out deployment procedures for high-tech devices known as capping stacks that can help stop a blowout when standard interventions won’t do the job.

In March 2013, the group dropped off its first capping stack in Norway. The next one came to Singapore in June 2013. It opened the third storage facility in South Africa in October, and in March, it opened the fourth and final one in Brazil. The equipment is expected  to be ready for use by the end of 2014.

The idea, Kaczmarski said, is to use the devices when typical well capping is impossible and “when all contingency plans fail.”

Kaczamarski said those four locations were chosen to minimize response time if the devices are ever needed, regardless of where in the world a blowout might happen. They can be transported by ship or by plane.

“Hopefully (we ) will never need to send it offshore to an incident,” Kaczmarski said.

According to project officials, the capping stacks should be adequate to stop most subsea wells at depths of 9,800-feet. The idea is they would be deployed in concert with a “toolkit” that includes other hardware needed to create a containment system that can bring flowing oil and gas from a wellhead to the surface in a way that can be contained if the spill can’t be otherwise stopped.

Shell operates the joint venture, which is based in Stavanger, Norway and is overseen by a committee comprised of representatives of each participating company.

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About The Author

Ryan Holeywell covers energy for the Houston Chronicle. He previously wrote about transportation and municipal finance for Governing magazine, which is read by state and local government officials nationwide. Holeywell’s previous work has been published by the Washington Post and USA Today, and he has appeared on CNN and public radio to discuss his articles. Holeywell, a Houston native, graduated from George Washington University in Washington, D.C.