Two years ago BP engineers were churning their wheels trying to devise one method after another to cap and kill the gushing Macondo well. Now the company says it has built a system that — if such a disaster ever recurred — could cap the blowout in relatively short order.
Gone are the catchy names like Top Kill, Junk Shot, Top Hat. Instead, BP’s system is called the Global Deepwater Well Cap and Tooling Package.
And oh what a package. The entire system weighs 500 metric tons, the cornerstone of which is the 40-foot-tall, 99-ton well cap that in the case of a blowout would be lowered into the murky depths and installed upon the well head.
The capping stack is designed to fasten around a gushing well pipe and gradually shut in the well by closing big gate valves. It can also contain the flow of oil and direct it up a flexible pipeline to be captured on the surface — like what was done with the Macondo flow until final killing by the relief well.
BP has its capping packaged staged and ready to be deployed. The equipment sits in a giant cathedral-ceilinged warehouse in the dusty, sprawling port of Houston.
“Everything is functioning and ready to go,” said Richard Morrison, v.p. of BP’s global spill response group, during a press tour last week. “We hope we never have to ship this system. Still, it has to be ready.”
Morrison explained that what sets BP’s package apart from others developed by industry consortia like the Marine Well Containment Company and the U.K.’s Oil Spill Prevention and Response Advisory Group, is that theirs can be broken apart and air-lifted to any deepwater project in the world. “We used currently available equipment that could be configured in an air-deployable package,” said Geir Karlsen, head of BP’s containment response system group.
Much of the equipment and tools were on display inside their custom travel packages, including stainless steel boxes, 20-foot cargo containers and wooden crates. Moving the whole caboodle would require 35 trailers to get it to Houston’s Bush Intercontinental Airport. It would then fill seven cargo planes, like the Antonov AN-124 or Boeing 747. BP has already choreographed the logistics of getting the package off those planes and to their destination, everywhere they operate around the world.
Included in the package is a massive set of pipe shears (think of a cigar cutter the size of a pickup truck) that can cut through as much as 60 inches of steel.
Morrison says the system cost $50 million to develop and was manufactured by BP and Cameron International. That’s a cheap insurance policy considering BP’s stated plans to keep investing more than $4 billion a year into the Gulf of Mexico. Though the company is divesting non-core Gulf fields, it still operates some of the deepest and largest, like Atlantis, Thunder Horse, Mad Dog and Tiber. BP currently has five rigs operating in the Gulf, with three more on the way, set to drill wells in the Kaskida, Moccasin, Freedom and Na Kika fields.
As BP goes ever deeper and farther out, however, it will need an even bigger, tougher capping stack. This one can be effective on well pressures as high as 15,000 psi. BP’s big goal, as highlighted at last weeks Offshore Technology Conference, is to make it routine to operate with pressures of 20,000 psi. “BP has never been more committed to deepwater,” says Morrison.