Wednesday, June 30, 2010

ROVs shine in work on runaway Macondo well

Crews working on the runaway deepwater Macondo well use remotely operated vehicles to perform a wide-ranging multitude of tasks. About 12 ROVs are at the wellhead in 5,000 ft of water where no human diver can venture.

Although the overall oil spill response effort has been marred by disappointments, the ROVs and their operators score fairly high on successful operating performance and on safety since the Apr. 20 Deepwater Horizon drill rig accident.

Each ROV is controlled via a tether going up to a vessel on the Gulf of Mexico. Macondo is operated by BP PLC, whose executives say choreography ensures ROV tethers do not tangle with other equipment in the congested area.

In their most-publicized chore, ROVs provide the lights and cameras that enable the public to watch a live video feed of oil and gas spilling from the failed blowout preventer on Mississippi Canyon Block 252. Some ROVs ran the saws to cut off a portion of the riser while other ROVs kept up the live video feed for a public audience.

Most of the time, the ROVs work smoothly without attracting attention, although the undersea robots are believed responsible for one, possibly two, mishaps. During May, an ROV temporarily dislodged a riser insertion tube that collected leaking oil and gas. In June, an ROV might have bumped a containment cap, forcing BP to temporarily suspend some collection operations.

"There are an unbelievable amount of ROVs operating down there," National Incident Commander and retired US Coast Guard Admiral Thad Allen told reporters during a June 23 conference call. "I think the fact that we've had two bumps that have had some kind of a consequence associated with them in the 60-plus-days response is a pretty good record."

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Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Judge says 150,000 jobs tied to offshore gulf operations

The offshore industry is crucial to the economies of communities along the Gulf of Mexico, US District Judge Martin Feldman of New Orleans notes in his ruling blocking a 6-month deepwater drilling moratorium in the gulf.

The moratorium stemmed from the Apr. 20 explosion and fire on Transocean Ltd.’s Deepwater Horizon semisubmersible rig, which was drilling the Macondo well in 5,000 ft of water for BP PLC and its partners. Eleven people were killed and a massive oil spill resulted.

US Interior Secretary Ken Salazar believes industry needs to refine blowout prevention, containment, and response planning before deepwater drilling should resume. DOE is appealing the temporary injunction that Feldman granted, blocking the drilling moratorium.

In his June 22 ruling, Feldman discussed how gulf drilling activities rely upon a vast and complex network of technology, assets, people, and experience.

“Indeed, an estimated 150,000 jobs are directly related to offshore operations,” Feldman said. “The government admits that the industry provides relatively high-paying jobs in drilling and production activities.”

Hornbeck Offshore Services Co. of Covington, La., and some 30 other companies requested the preliminary injunction against the moratorium. Feldman said plaintiffs own and operate vessels, shipyards, and supply service companies that support deepwater exploration and production.

“In addition to the vessels and facilities involved in their work, the plaintiffs together employ over 11,875 people,” Feldman said. “At least 19 other companies, aside from BP’s operations involved with Deepwater Horizon, are presently operating deepwater drilling rigs.”

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Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Surveys show “sea of discontent” with subsea equipment

EnergyPoint Research Inc. reports its oil field service surveys suggest oil companies are significantly less satisfied with equipment available for subsea and deepwater projects than with equipment for surface-based applications.

“As the industry searches for ways to avoid a repeat of the catastrophe in the Gulf of Mexico, it may prove helpful to develop a more thorough appreciation of what drives the lower scores for subsea equipment,” EnergyPoint Research said on June 10.

“Data indicate customers see subsea blowout preventers, wellheads and trees, and riser and flexjoints as particularly lacking,” said EnergyPoint Research, suggesting this dissatisfaction stems in part from rapid growth within the subsea business. “Notably, ratings for subsea BOPs trail those of surface BOPs by material margins.”

Meanwhile, remotely operated vehicles received the highest long-term ratings of any subsea product category EnergyPoint tracked in its survey. The findings stem from more than 5,600 customer evaluations of oil field product suppliers since 2005.

Indeed, ROVs have proved to be the workhorses in dealing with the failed BOP and resulting oil spill in the gulf since the Apr. 20 deepwater Macondo well blowout and resulting explosion and fire to Transocean Ltd.’s Deepwater Horizon semisubmersible. BP PLC operates Macondo on Mississippi Canyon Block 252.

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Tuesday, June 8, 2010

BP flooded with thousands of ideas on how to stop oil spill

Drilling and well-control experts aren’t the only ones with ideas about how to resolve the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico. BP PLC, operator of the runaway Macondo well, reports it received some 40,000 ideas on the evolving situation since the Apr. 20 deepwater blowout.

“A lot of people have had some really good ideas,” Kent Wells, BP senior vice-president of exploration and production, said during a June 7 technical briefing in Houston. Some ideas “were bang on” he said, adding they suggested similar strategies as the ones already being developed by industry experts and federal scientists.

Some ideas were good but would not work in 5,000 ft of water, he said, adding other ideas were very creative and held potential, but they would have taken too long. Although none of the ideas from the public yet have proven to be game changers providing instant answers, BP found them to be useful.

“They have helped us rethink things, Wells said. “They’ve helped us tweak things.”

Some ideas, such as using explosives, were impractical, Wells said. BP received ideas on how to stop the flow as well as suggestions for collection systems and how to prevent the formation of gas hydrates.

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Wednesday, June 2, 2010

NOAA vessel joins the hunt for possible underwater oil plumes

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration is sending its own research ship, the Gordon Gunter, to study reports of oil plumes suspended in the Gulf of Mexico.

NOAA’s Gunter was in the gulf already sampling plankton to establish baseline conditions for the deepwater oil spill off Louisiana. On May 28, NOAA expanded the Gunter’s mission to use its sonar equipment to define any underwater plumes.

Researchers from various universities have reported underwater oil plumes, and their findings need to be put into context. Some oceanographers suggest increased microbes are growing in response to the spill, which could tip the marine system out of balance. They warn that too many microbes robs oxygen from the seawater, creating an uninhabitable hypoxic area, or "dead zone" threatening marine life.

Still, documentation of these reported plumes has yet to be provided by the broad scientific community. BP PLC Group Executive Tony Hayward says there is “no evidence” of masses of oil suspended in seawater.

Meanwhile, NOAA scientist Charlie Henry told reporters weeks ago that a sample of water from these so-called plumes would look just like normal seawater. Hydrocarbons are present, but the oil is in tiny droplets.

“Layers of oil are totally untrue,” Henry said of some media reports regarding initial reports from university research vessels about underwater plumes of oil (OGJ Online, May 17, 2010).

If potential plumes are identified, the Gunter will deploy an underwater vehicle, Gulper, provided by the Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute “to take discrete water samples at various depths to allow precise characterization of any oil, dispersants, or other substances,” NOAA said.

Record volumes of chemical dispersants have been used on the spill, and any potential long-term dispersant effect on marine life remains unknown.

Threats to fisheries or marine life must be taken seriously, but first these reported underwater oil plumes have yet to be substantiated.

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