A rapid-response system to capture and contain oil and natural gas in the event of a potential deepwater well blowout in the Gulf of Mexico (GOM) should go a long way in alleviating concerns by the U.S. public, sponsors ExxonMobil Corp., Chevron Corp., ConocoPhillips and Royal Dutch Shell plc said late Wednesday.

The system, designed to be flexible, adaptable and able to mobilize within 24 hours, could be used on a "wide range" of well designs and equipment, oil and natural gas flow rates, and weather conditions, the sponsors said. It would be engineered for use in deepwater depths up to 10,000 feet and have initial capacity to contain 100,000 b/d with potential for expansion.

BP plc, the largest producer in the GOM and operator of the Macondo well in the deepwater, was not asked to join the consortium. However, BP and other operators would have access to the system, said ExxonMobil CEO Rex Tillerson.

"If we all do our jobs properly, this system will never be used," said Tillerson. "The extensive experience of industry shows that when the focus remains on safe operations and risk management, tragic incidents like the one we are witnessing in the Gulf of Mexico today should not occur."

The four majors have committed a total of $1 billion, equally divided, to fund the system's initial costs, with ExxonMobil to helm the system design. Additional operational and maintenance costs for the subsea and modular processing equipment, contracts with existing operating vessels in the GOM and any potential new vessels that may be constructed would increase the cost commitment, they noted.

"Chevron knows that it can only operate with the public's confidence that the energy we need will be produced safely and reliably," said Chevron CEO John Watson. "We are committed to advancing safe operations through enhanced prevention, better well containment and intervention and improved spill response. This new system significantly enhances the industry's ability to effectively respond to any unforeseen incidents."

Unlike response equipment that had been used prior to the GOM disaster, the new equipment would be pre-engineered, constructed, tested and "ready for rapid deployment" in the deepwater. The system, based partly on how BP's well blow-out response evolved, is being developed by a team of marine, subsea and construction engineers from the four companies.

The system is to include specially designed subsea containment equipment connected by manifolds, jumpers and risers to capture vessels that would store and offload the oil. Crews on call would ensure regular maintenance, inspection and readiness of the facilities and subsea equipment.

The four producers are forming the Marine Well Containment Co. as a nonprofit to operate and maintain the system. Other companies would be encouraged to participate in the organization.

"The oil and gas industry has long been recognized as a technological leader, and the American public expects us to improve our ability to respond immediately to offshore incidents," said ConocoPhillips CEO Jim Mulva. "The creation and development of this sophisticated system will greatly enhance industry's ability to ensure a quick and effective response."

Shell Oil Co. President Marvin Odum said, "As an industry, we must rebuild trust with the American people in order to demonstrate that we can produce energy in a safe and environmentally responsible manner. Beyond Shell's absolute commitment to oil spill prevention and robust well designs, additional safeguards must be strengthened across the industry to develop the capacity to quickly respond and resolve a deepwater well blowout in the Gulf of Mexico, regardless of how unlikely it is that this situation will reoccur."

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