Archive for September, 2010

Today, BOEM released fact sheets describing the Drilling Safety and Safety and Environmental Management (SEMS) rules. The complete documents will be available for review as soon as they are published in the Federal Register.

Based on the fact sheet, the Drilling Safety Rule does not appear to include any significant surprises.  The rule seems to be generally consistent with the recommendations in Secretary Salazar’s 27 May Safety Measures Report to the President (the “30-Day Report”).  This is an Interim Final Rule that will be effective upon publication.

According to the fact sheet, the SEMS Rule will incorporate all elements of API RP 75 into BOEM regulations.  This is an improvement, in my opinion, from the proposed rule which incorporated only 4 elements of RP 75.  The effective date for this rule is not indicated in the fact sheet.

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Safety culture is how the organization behaves when no one is watching.

Also, NOPSA’s September Newsletter has some interesting updates including information on the jackup failure offshore China.

And how does a reporter question the humility of engineers? 🙂

Engineers do amazing things, but they aren’t always as smart as they think, nor their systems as robust as they seem on paper.

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In our last Cuba update, we noted that their next deepwater well always seems to be a year away. So it came as no surprise when we saw this in a New York Times article:

Yet next year, a Spanish company will begin drilling new wells 50 miles from the Florida Keys — in Cuba’s sovereign waters.

Comment: We have been hearing this for five years.  Will the well really be spudded next year?

The nascent oil industry in Cuba is far less prepared to handle a major spill than even the American industry was at the time of the BP spill. Cuba has neither the submarine robots needed to fix deepwater rig equipment nor the platforms available to begin drilling relief wells on short notice.

Comments: (1) Not a good time for the US to be lecturing Cuba about oil spills.  (2)In the event of a spill, all well intervention, relief well, and spill response equipment would no doubt be made available to Cuba without hesitation and with the full support of the US government. (3)A Cuban blowout is unlikely because every operator and contractor in the world will be focusing on well integrity and BOP performance issues that were factors in the Macondo blowout. (4)Informed international contacts have advised us that Cuban offshore officials are knowledgeable and committed to internationally accepted safety and pollution prevention standards.

My biggest concern with regard to Cuban offshore operations, assuming a moored rig is used, is that the rig would be set adrift during a hurricane and that anchors, mooring lines, or hulls could damage coral reefs and other sensitive seafloor features.  In the US, the MMS and industry did a lot of good work on mooring risk assessments and improved anchoring systems and mooring lines.   Given the significant probability that Cuban rigs will be exposed to hurricane conditions, it is imperative that US and Cuban specialists meet to discuss these issues.  Once a rig is adrift, there is not much that can be done to stop it.

Also, in an award winning project, a multi-agency US government team demonstrated enhanced satellite monitoring capabilities that provide timely information on the location of evacuated rigs.   These capabilities can be combined with gps systems to ensure continuous rig-tracking.

US-Cuban cooperation on offshore safety and pollution prevention issues is in the best interest of both countries, and should be encouraged without hesitation.

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BP has announced a new safety unit and other organizational changes. For more on the changes, see the Upstream report.

From a BOE perspective, the most interesting comment in the BP release was this Bob Dudley quote:

Our response to the incident needs to go beyond deepwater drilling. There are lessons for us relating to the way we operate, the way we organize our company and the way we manage risk.

I hope the rest of the offshore industry has the same view and is prepared to work together to assess and mitigate operational risks. To date, industry has reacted impressively to issues raised since the Macondo well blew out on 20 April.  However, what is being done to identify operational and safety risks that could trigger the next disaster? When will complete, consistent, and verified international incident data be collected and published?.  How do you manage risks without such data?  Why weren’t the lessons from Montara quickly disseminated around the world?  If they were, Macondo may have been prevented.

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Aban Pearl listing off Trinidad in August 2009

For those who haven’t been following this saga, the Aban Pearl, a semi-submersible drilling rig, sank off of Venezuela on 13 May 2010. The seas were calm and the skies were clear, so the cause of the accident is a mystery.  We have learned from a reliable and knowledgeable source that PDVSA, the national oil company of Venezuela, has conducted an official investigation to determine the cause(s) of this accident.  We urge them to release their report so that all may benefit from their findings.

While searching the web for other information on the Aban Pearl, I was surprised to find that the rig was reported to be listing offshore Trinidad & Tobago in August 2009, and that assistance was requested from the T&T Coast Guard. This incident occurred nine months before the rig sank offshore Venezuela.

According to Public Relations Officer at the T&T Coast Guard Lt Kirk Jean Baptiste, the T&T Coast Guard received a distress call from the rig around 2.45 pm. “The Coast Guard received a call that one of the flotation devices on the rig was taking in water which caused the rig to lean on one side,” he said. Sources said it belonged to an Indian company, but was registered in Singapore. They said it was not working, but just passing through T&T waters. Rigs are normally moved with the help of other boats.

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We have commented frequently about the similarities between the Montara and Macondo blowouts, particularly the root cause casing shoe issues. In this post, Colin Leach draws attention to the float shoe and collar issues that permitted oil and gas to enter both wells. Click here to view the full post.

The Bly report (page 70) noted some significant “inconsistencies” in the operation of the float shoe/float collar (see full post). This is so similar in nature to the “inconsistencies” in the 9 5/8″ cement job on the Montara well to be scary. The bottom line is that both disasters could have been prevented if these “inconsistencies” had been recognized and additional barriers placed above the float collar. In fact even if there are no “inconsistencies”, the placing of an additional barrier or so seems like an exceptionally prudent step, which would not take that much time or effort.

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As previously posted (July 27, 2010), deep water had little to do with the well integrity problems and other contributing factors leading to the Macondo blowout. The Bly (BP) report further confirms this position.

Of the eight key findings in the Bly report (listed below), only number 4 could be considered to be more of a deepwater issue.  The BOP failures may also have been influenced by deepwater factors.  However, as previously noted, surface BOPs have a much higher failure rate than subsea stacks.

While the Montara blowout was in relatively shallow water, slight variations of findings 1 through 4 were the primary causes of that accident.

BP findings:

  1. The annulus cement barrier did not isolate the hydrocarbons.
  2. The shoe track barriers did not isolate the hydrocarbons.
  3. The negative-pressure test was accepted although well integrity had not been established.
  4. Influx was not recognized until hydrocarbons were in the riser.
  5. Well control response actions failed to regain control of the well.
  6. Diversion to the mud gas separator resulted in gas venting onto the rig.
  7. The fire and gas system did not prevent hydrocarbon ignition.
  8. The BOP emergency mode did not seal the well.

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Secretary Salazar, Deputy Secretary Hayes, and BOEMRE Director Bromwich testified at today’s National Commission hearings. Director Bromwich made several important announcements and comments of interest to BOE readers:

  1. He has completed his public meetings and will submit his report to the Secretary by the end of the week, approximately two months ahead of schedule.  Does this point to an early end to the drilling moratorium?
  2. Two significant interim final rules will also be issued by the end of the week.  These rules will address well integrity,  BOP performance, and other issues raised in the 30-day report submitted to the President at the end of May.
  3. New drilling will not be authorized until operators and contractors can demonstrate compliance with the new rules.
  4. BOEMRE resources will be reallocated to assist with the workload associated with the resumption of drilling.

Chairman Reilly expressed concerns about the leasing and regulatory functions reporting to the same Assistant Secretary under the new organizational structure.  He also drew attention to the regulatory regimes in Norway, the UK, and elsewhere, and the importance of studying those programs.

Secretary Salazar’s goal is for the US offshore oil and gas program to serve as the “gold standard” for safe and clean operations around the world.

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Monday’s hearings will be broadcast on CSpan 2 beginning at 0900 ET. Admiral Allen will be the first witness and will address decision-making within the Unified Command.  Given the number of high profile witnesses and the limited time allotted to each witness,  in-depth questioning would seem to be unlikely.  Will this be a day of short speeches?

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From the Huffington Post:

Oil-producing countries on Thursday rejected a German proposal for a moratorium on deep-water drilling in the Northeast Atlantic that reflected environmental concerns after the BP Gulf of Mexico oil spill.

So Germany, which has essentially no offshore oil and gas production in its sliver of the North Sea, proposed a ban on deepwater drilling at an OSPAR meeting in Bergen, Norway?  Does the word chutzpah come to mind?  The equivalent might be a Norwegian proposal to ban the manufacturer of luxury cars at a meeting in Stuttgart!

The German proposal also called for making sure that offshore operations meet the highest safety standards and demanded an analysis of whether the circumstances that led to the Deepwater Horizon accident could also occur in the Northeast Atlantic.

Now there is some original thinking.  No one has ever suggested that before! (sarcasm intended)  Don’t you think Norway, the UK, Denmark, the Netherlands, and other countries that actually produce oil and gas might be looking into these issues?  I can assure you that they are, but that they are doing so quietly and professionally without the type of “grandstanding” demonstrated by Germany at the OSPAR meeting in Bergen.

Representatives from Germany and other nations with concerns about the safety of offshore oil and gas operations are encouraged to join us in Vancouver next month for serious discussions about the regulatory practices, technology, and management systems that minimize safety risks.

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