Tuesday 28 September 2010

Innovation, Know-How, Expertise, and capping the Macondo well

I know BP is the Pantomime Villain of the US at the moment, and I know BP got themselves and the Gulf Coast into a huge mess with the Macondo well, but few people credit how amazingly difficult and skillful the job was of getting the Gulf Coast out of that same mess again afterwards.

Capping and clearing up an uncontrolled blowout is very hard. Think how long it took to cap the Kuwait wells after Saddam had blown them up - it took about 8 months, and the clean-up took much longer. And that was on the surface, where you could deploy bulldozers and cranes, and you could get up close with a wrenches and pipes.

Now imagine doing this a mile underwater, in the dark, in the cold, beyond the reach of divers. Nobody had ever tackled anything like this.

In containing, capping and clearing up the blow-out, BP has done things in months that usually take years. They have done things never before done in the Gulf. They have done things never before done in the world. They have orchestrated probably the biggest deployment of ships, aircraft and personnel ever seen outside wartime.

How have they done this? They have done it by using Innovation, Know-How, and Expertise. See the extract below from this speech by Andy Inglis

As I reflect on the response over the past five months, I believe three factors were critical to the conclusion of this incredibly challenging endeavor. These are:


•Know-how; and


Let me give you some examples.

First on Innovation. From the beginning, the relief wells were envisaged to be the final step in permanently killing the well. It was critical that these wells were drilled safely and efficiently to intercept the Macondo well. To put this in perspective, this requires hitting a 7” target at a distance of 3-1/2 miles. Using existing technology (openhole magnetic ranging), 17 ranging runs were performed to accurately position the relief well, and I am pleased to say we hit the target the first time. Each ranging run required the magnetic tool to be deployed on wireline from the surface, a process that took approximately 36 hours. In total, the ranging runs added over 3 weeks to the time it took to successfully intercept the well. Whilst the relief well was being drilled, we developed a tool that allows ranging while drilling, eliminating the need for time consuming tool deployment from surface. This technology was proven in the final intersect of the well. This is just one example. The challenge going forward is to ensure this type of technology development for subsea containment continues beyond the immediacy of incident response.

Second – know-how. I’m sure many people here today will remember the unsuccessful deployment of the containment dome early in the response effort. This dome was around 20 ft square and three stories tall and designed to contain the flow from the well. Why was this unsuccessful? The operational procedures, while detailed, did not fully contemplate the impact of hydrates inside the dome during installation in these conditions. We took this learning into account for the installation of the sealing cap. Ahead of its deployment we ran over a hundred trials onshore to test the installation procedures for any scenario we could envisage. This time and attention led to the successful installation of this cap and the sealing of the well on July 15th. The challenge going forward is to make sure the know-how embodied in these and other detailed procedures developed during the response is not lost.

And third - expertise. In the early days following the incident, it became apparent that it would have been extremely difficult for any one company to address the challenge. Therefore, we welcomed the offers of expertise from other deep water operators and service companies world-wide. Under the direction of the National Incident Commander, the U. S. Coast Guard, BOEM and the government science team, played a particular role in reviewing each step of the subsea containment effort and I would like to acknowledge the contribution they made in response to this incident. The challenge going forward is to maintain this collaboration between industry and government. It is our hope that the subsea expertise developed in the National Laboratories during this response will be expanded and available if needed in the future.

Now you could argue that the Innovation, Know-How and Expertise might be better used avoiding the disaster in the first place, and nobody would disagree with you. Failing that, then using them a) to fix things, and b)  make sure they never happen again is a vital secondary objective with huge implications for us all.

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