New BOP Targets Prevention of Future Deepwater Horizon Incidents

New BOP Targets Prevention of Future Deepwater Horizon Incidents
BOP Technologies officials say their BOP design offers a "radical departure" from traditional BOP design.

Officials with BOP Technologies are seeking funds to build a prototype of a shearing blowout preventer (BOP) they say offers a radical departure from traditional BOP design.

A fact that the oil and gas industry doesn’t like to talk about is that, about 10 percent of the time, BOPs can’t shear a piece of pipe, Mark Alley, CEO of BOP Technologies, told Rigzone. BOP Technologies was founded in 2013 to commercialize a BOP designed by H. Jay Read, who spent more than 30 years working with BOPs at Shaffer, now a subsidiary of National Oilwell Varco, and Cameron International Corporation, now part of Schlumberger Limited.

Read’s experience with BOPs gave him insight into how different BOPs work, and instances of when this technology didn’t work as well as it could. In some cases, customers were crossing their fingers hoping that the BOPs would work, Read told Rigzone.

The 2010 Deepwater Horizon incident illustrated the fact that existing BOPs at that time were not strong enough to cut, shear and seal against a number of tools such as tubulars being run in a well, Roy Schilling, a consultant with BOP Technologies and currently president of Frontier Deepwater Solutions LLC, told Rizgone.

When the Deepwater Horizon incident occurred, most BOPs only produced a million pounds of shear force. This forced BOP manufacturers to increase the pounds per square inch (psi) capability from 1,500 psi up to 7,500 psi behind the piston. Today, new BOPs manufactured by GE and Cameron produce up to 2 million pounds, Schilling said. Work has been done to make blades and cutters more efficient. Despite these improvements, BOPs still can’t fully cut across everything that could be in a BOP during drilling and completion. This leaves the possibility of a blowout occurring.

Another example in which a BOP failed to shear pipe, Schilling said, was the 1979 blowout that occurred in Mexico’s Bay of Campeche. In that case, Petroleos Mexicanos’ attempt to close the BOP shear rams was thwarted by a drill collar that blocked the rams.

A 2013 well blowout that occurred at South Timbalier Block 22 in the Gulf of Mexico illustrates the dilemma that crews face: if they wait too long to push the button, the BOP won’t work, which can be deadly. But if they hit the button and the decision proves unnecessary, they’ve cost the company money. The crew on board jackup Hercules 265 (250 ‘MC), which was drilling a well at South Timbalier for Walter Oil & Gas, was blamed for not using a dense enough fluid to control natural gas from the well, and for reacting too slowly when the blowout began.

But making that decision in a chaotic environment isn’t easy. Alley believes the solution is not about better training, but better technology to help human workers.

“That’s the purpose behind our BOP design,” Alley stated. “A BOP that will shear and seal anything.”

Smaller Footprint, More Power Behind BOP Design

To address the shortcomings of existing BOP technologies, Read came up with a BOP design that has a smaller footprint, but more power behind it. The company has not yet tested the technology, but officials believe its design should offer more reliability in shearing pipe.

BOP Technologies’ design, the CIRBOP [Circular Intensifier RAM Blow Out Preventer], allows power of more than 5 million pounds to the ram block, doubling the capacity offered by today’s conventional BOPs. The CIRBOP shearing BOP is designed around an integrated intensifier, onboard failsafe, and quick-change hydraulic and ram modules. It also features a closed internal hydraulic high-pressure loop and requires a lower range of input pressures. The BOP is also trash-friendly for harsher environments where sand blast materials, shavings and other trash can contaminate hydraulic fluid.

A conventional BOP has big doors that swing out and bonnets that slide out. Read’s design pulls everything together into a single piston that serves as an intensifier. Fluid intensifiers, or any pressure intensifiers, increase pressure by the ratio of two surface areas on a piston, Alley said.

BOP Technologies officials expect their new shear BOP design to be more effective than conventional BOPs. Source: BOP Technologies

“In our case, the large surface area on the bottom side of our big piston counts as one of the two surface areas in the ratio,” Alley commented. “The small surface area at the top of that same piston provides the second surface area in the ratio. So if the large surface area is 1,000 square inches and the small surface area is 100 square inches, then the resulting ratio is 10:1. This means that the lower pressure fluid could enter at 3,000 psi and the fluid pressure at the small surface area would be raised to 30,000 psi.”


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Generated by readers, the comments included herein do not reflect the views and opinions of Rigzone. All comments are subject to editorial review. Off-topic, inappropriate or insulting comments will be removed.

Old Grey Hair  |  August 22, 2017
BOPs are not made to successfully shut-in on a fully flowing well, deepwater or not. Since they were unsure, they should have made sure by shutting in and circulating out through the choke. They could have just bullheaded a bit to see if the pressure response made sense and if still unsure, strip in about 5 stands then circulate out on choke. Should have also had an automatic overboard diversion system on the mud-gas separator inlet side to help prevent VOCs in ignition source areas. Training only goes so far and the value of seeing a well unload or someone getting hurt makes the risk real. Too much denial of the risk. Technology may fill the human factor gap. The last well control incident I helped resolve in 2015, they had been EMPTYING the trip tank during POOH instead of filling it for several thousand feet POOH! The only thing that made it manageable was a low volatile and pressure oil zone that allowed for a Top-Kill. There was RTM on the rig and in the shore-side offices. So much for training! All this effort to communicate with the office and matters that have nothing to do with Well Control detract from the primary role of the Operating Company Rep and ToolPusher/OIM when conducting critical operation like starting to POOH, a JSA, observation, and another JSA before going onto other business. Now the Driller, and MudLogger thats another matter. My motto, not sure, make sure.
Philippe  |  November 01, 2016
The mud engineer is responsible for the monitoring of the new mud and return mud. During my time the assistant driller was to monitor the mud density every 15 minutes. The mud returned pit was set up with level gages. The returned mud is always more volume than the new mud, the difference is the shaving. The monitoring of the density of mud, every 15 minutes, shows the amount of gas in the mud. More gas in the same volume of mud means lighter weight. This is the earliest indication of a possible blow out. This blow out means that the customer short circuited the monitoring processes to save money. The mud engineer is a company sub-contractor; the assistant driller and the BOP technician are drilling company employees. The rig manager had challenged the company man orders. The rig manager went to the drilling company VP for answers. The VP gave in to the company man. The incompetence goes way up to Transocean VP. As for BP, their reputation was that BP cut corners??
Flavio de Moraes  |  October 31, 2016
I welcome the effort to enhance the BOP shear ram technology. However, I can not agree with Mr. Alley in his alleged statement: Alley believes the solution is not about better training, but better technology to help human workers. In my opinion, better training allows for preventing an incident that will lead to the use of the BOP shear rams, and also for distinguishing between the right or wrong time to activate this feature. Technology should not be used to allow untrained human workers to be responsible for a deep water drilling operation.
Phil Tosh  |  October 31, 2016
I like the idea of BOP Technology, it seems the only way to go with obviously some additions required to what they have proposed. The fact that there is no money out there at this stage to invest by any drilling or oil company prevents further trials etc.. but eventually this will be a requirement of which someone will advise. Why the safety bureau have not supported this is beyond me. As stated in years gone by the Bop was developed & it has grown technically but not perfect yet. Get the correct finished ideas ironed out & there will be a company out there along with individuals who can make this happen for all to be safe in there job going forward.
David Thompson  |  October 31, 2016
Deepwater would not have happened if theyd had experienced mud engineers out there. They had rookies. Sometimes the expensive gray hair is worth it.