Ready to respond

David Coatney, HWCG

July 1, 2017

HWCG’s David Coatney stresses the importance of developing comprehensive response plans to prevent deepwater blowouts.

Photo from HWCG.

To respond to future offshore deepwater drilling incidents, offshore energy companies must be prepared and develop comprehensive deepwater containment response systems and plans. A response plan is vital for mitigating the impact to people, property and the environment. HWCG is one of three consortia and additional well containment providers committed to operators in the Gulf of Mexico.

The concept of balanced drilling to maintain well control is achieved through sophisticated design considerations involving construction and mud programs. Applications in harsh deepwater environments requires increasing collaboration of companies, contractors and service sector engineering expertise.

Companies must be prepared for capping or flowing back wells at well flowback rates of “worst case discharge” and are oftentimes in need of design capacity handling of over 100,000 b/d and 200 MMcf/d.

Testing and optimizing the RCD

Deepwater blowout response planning in the Gulf of Mexico continues to evolve, following the resumption of drilling, post-Macondo. That resumption was founded on the cooperative effort of the industry and the Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement (BSEE) and its forerunners. The Well Containment Plan (WCP) detailed the equipment and procedures that would be used as well as providing an accepted method of assessing wellbore integrity (the Well Containment Screening Tool (WCST)). In HWCG’s case, the WCP has been supplanted by a higher-level regulatory filing called the Regional Containment Demonstration (RCD).

It contains all the information necessary for BSEE to determine an operator’s ability to respond to the covered operations. The result is a streamlining of the regulatory process that focuses on individual well design while still providing the assurance that deepwater blowout response is up-to-date.

Fundamental to HWCG’s RCD are assets that would be mobilized in any incident. The primary components are capping stacks (rated at 10,000psi and 15,000psi), a top hat, a subsea accumulator module and a subsea dispersant manifold.

The heart of HWCG’s members’ response plans is the equipment that operates in the GoM and is accessed through pre-existing agreements between HWCG and contractors. Ranging from capping stack deployment vessels to tankers for delivering captured effluent to shore for processing, this equipment and Mutual Aid reflects the philosophy of the consortium.

Testing and optimizing response efforts

HWCG consortium members respond to another member’s deepwater well incident through Mutual Aid, a preplanned commitment of intellectual and equipment resources, bringing to bear the collective and collaborative input of a diverse set of companies.

To help improve response efforts, HWCG conducts an annual source control exercise designed to test the effectiveness of member’s RCD by incorporating HWCG resources, while providing realistic response training to the host, members and various vendors. Lessons learned from these exercises helps improve response efforts and are shared with HWCG members, dedicated vendors, regulatory agencies and the industry as a whole.

Ultimate goal for rapid response plans

Multiple pieces of equipment, technologies and personnel play essential roles in an integrated rapid response plan. Although the goal for well containment equipment and technology is to quickly contain a blowout, the emergency responders and the Responsible Party ultimately want to protect the environment, other operators and all involved response personnel.

Deepwater well containment has evolved remarkably since 2011, by enhancing and creating structured safety management systems. However, there is no replacement for “good oilfield practices,” like always honoring the fundamentals of sound engineering in designing wells of ever increasing complexity and picking personnel on capacity of judgement and technical capabilities.

David Coatney
is managing director of HWCG. He has more than 40 years of global experience in the upstream oil and gas industry and has acted as an Incident Commander – domestically and abroad, leading successful responses in operational, natural disaster, well control and civil unrest incidents.