UK O&G Industry Successfully Tests Emergency Spill Response Equipment

The UK oil and gas industry has successfully tested its ability to deploy a well capping device in the waters west of Shetland. As part of the industry's commitment to further strengthen the UK's emergency response capabilities, the Oil Spill Prevention and Response Advisory Group (OSPRAG) has undertaken a number of initiatives to improve well engineering and oil spill response capability, including the development of a well capping device for use in UK waters to seal-off an uncontrolled subsea oil well in the unlikely event of a major well control incident.

The purpose of the recent Emergency Equipment Response Deployment (EERD) exercise was to simulate the logistical process of transporting a well capping device, loading it on to a vessel and lowering it over the side before fixing it to a specially-built simulated well on the sea floor.

The exercise was project-managed and executed by Total E&P UK on behalf of Oil & Gas UK and ran from July 16-26, 2011 at a site in block 206/4, around 75km north west of Shetland.

The various stages of the exercise included:

  • Exercise site prepared by deploying a specially-built landing base to the seafloor at a depth of 300 meters to accurately simulate a subsea well.
  • Remotely operated vehicles (ROVs) used to deploy subsea oil dispersant (in this instance, a non-toxic fluorescent dye).
  • Heavy-duty cutting shears deployed to sever a subsea marine riser pipe. This would be done in a real-life scenario in order to clear the riser out of the way to make room for the cap to be landed.
  • Capping device deployed over the side of a multi-service vessel using a crane.
  • Device landed on to the well, locked on to the base and activated using ROVs.
  • All equipment, including the landing base, recovered.

Oil & Gas UK's chief executive, Malcolm Webb, said, "The UK oil and gas industry has a very high level of confidence in its ability to prevent blowouts. We haven't experienced one here in over 20 years – in which time over 7,000 wells have been drilled.

"No matter how unlikely a blowout is, we recognize the importance of being prepared for low-probability, worst-case scenarios. This is why we regularly test our emergency response capabilities and why we wanted this particular exercise to be as realistic as possible.

"Its success proves we can not only quickly mobilize and deploy the capping device, but also incorporate the use of a wide variety of other related equipment, such as subsea dispersant and cutting shears, which in a real-life situation would be used as part of the same operation.

"The next stage will involve a full debrief involving all participants to identify any learning opportunities and Oil & Gas UK will share these findings throughout the industry."