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Interior Orders Industry Exercise of Offshore Containment Systems

The Department of Interior plans to put the offshore industry through the paces this summer to test the reliability of its containment systems.

Interior Secretary Ken Salazar last Thursday directed the Marine Well Containment Co. (MWCC) to conduct a live drill this summer of its $1 billion oil spill containment system that was developed following the the Macondo well blowout and deadly rig explosion in in the Gulf of Mexico (GOM) in 2010.

The exercise would demonstrate the ability of MWCC to mobilize a capping stack -- a device similar to the one that stopped the runaway oil spill from BP plc's Deepwater Horizon rig -- in a timely manner from its onshore base to the deepwater seabed of the GOM, Interior said.

The demonstration will involve the deployment and testing of a capping stack as a part of a larger scenario that would also test an operator's ability to obtain and schedule the deployment of the supporting systems necessary for successful containment, including debris removal equipment and oil collection devices, such as top hats, Interior said.

The capping stack will be lowered to the seabed by wire, a technique that offers the potential to be significantly faster than the deployment via pipe that occurred during the Deepwater Horizon response.

"We have tested MWCC and capping stacks repeatedly, but putting them through their paces in the deepwaters of the Gulf will give us added confidence that they will be ready to go if needed," said James Watson, director of Interior's Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement (BSEE). The exercise will be overseen by BSEE, which routinely tests capping stacks on the surface as part of its overall responsibility to enforce safety in the offshore. The agency also said it would analyze the results of the exercise.

MWCC is a non-profit, independent ornization founded by ExxonMobil Corp., Chevron, ConocoPhillips and Royal Dutch Shell (see NGI, July 26, 2010). BP later joined the producers. The company was established following the blowout of BP's Macondo well off the coast of Louisiana (see NGI, April 26, 2010).

The MWCC system, based in the GOM, operates in water depths of up to 8,000 feet and can process up to 60,000 b/d of liquids.

MWCC is one of two consortia that provide contract access to well-containment systems for oil and gas operators. The other consortium, Helix Well Containment Group, will be asked to complete a similar deployment exercise in the future, Interior said.

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