Archive for November, 2010

West Atlas Jackup and Montara Wellhead Platform

While there has been much post-Macondo discussion about the complexity of subsea containment and capping operations for deepwater wells, Macondo was ultimately capped and killed before being intersected by the relief well. The same cannot be said for the shallow water Montara well, which was killed by a relief well after flowing for 74 days.

Capping a flowing well is never routine, regardless of the water depth. However, the safety risks are greater for surface wells.  Those risks combined with the low probability of success are why a capping operation was not even attempted at Montara.  These were the concerns:

  1. The risk of a fatality was estimated at an alarming 25-30%.
  2. The risk of ignition while retracting the cantilever of the West Atlas jackup, a necessary step in the capping operation, was high.
  3. Only the 20-inch casing was tied-back to the wellhead platform. The 13 3/8″ casing was suspended just above the water surface. (According to testimony during the inquiry, the 13 3/8″ casing was not cemented back inside the 20″ casing.)
  4. Unless they were going to tie-back the 13 3/8″ casing while the well was flowing (probably not feasible and not mentioned as a possibility in the Inquiry report), they would have had to install a specially made BOP on the 20.”  If they were able to install this BOP and shut-in the well, flow would have undoubtedly broached the casing at the 20″ inch shoe.  One possible alternative may have been to install a diverter under the BOP and attempt a dynamic kill operation (i.e. direct the flow downwind and away from the rig while pumping mud down the well).  This too would have been complex and risky.

Given the very high safety risk and the low probability of success, I believe the regulator and operator made the correct decision in forgoing a capping attempt. The experiences at Macondo and Montara indicate that capping considerations must be taken into account during well planning activities for both subsea and surface wells, and that they latter pose greater safety risks.  Given the fire potential, having the wellhead at the surface is not an advantage when it comes to capping a flowing well.  It’s better to have the wellhead on the seafloor where the robotic equipment is doing the work.

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I was unaware of the Halliburton study referenced in the Montara Inquiry Report:

A 2001 Halliburton study of USA Gulf of Mexico cementing failures in 4000 wells showed that (i) approximately one in six casing shoes required remedial work after primary cementing (by way of a so‐called ‘squeeze job’); and (ii) intermediate casing shoes failed shoe tests 70 per cent more often than shallower casings because they were more likely to be over‐displaced.

This paper was presented at an SPE conference in New Orleans.  Click here to purchase the paper or read a good abstract.


  1. Have other analyses and reports been prepared using these data?
  2. Would Halliburton make the data base available for the common good if they receive legal protection?
  3. In light of the worldwide interest in better understanding well integrity risks, would Halliburton and others expand the data base to include other regions?
  4. Surely, there must be other private data bases that would be useful for assessing operational risks and developing mitigations. Are the owners willing to identify these data bases? Can they be protected from liability risks if they agree to make the information accessible?

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The Economist reports on the Laggan-Tormore gas project :

The £2.5 billion project, approved earlier this year, should deliver its first gas in 2014—a full 28 years after the Laggan field was discovered, a delay that exemplifies the region’s challenges. The field was too small and remote to justify the construction of a pipeline until the nearby Tormore field was discovered in 2007.



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Selected cementing recommendations from the Montara report:

Recommendation 30: Tracking and analysis of cementing problems/failures should occur to assess industry trends, principal causes, remedial techniques and so on.

Comment: This is an excellent recommendation that needs to be expanded to include other failures (e.g. BOPE) and incident data.

Recommendation 31: It is recommended that industry, regulators, and training/research institutions liaise with one another with a view to developing better techniques for testing and verifying the integrity of cemented casing shoes as barriers (particularly in atypical situations such as where the casing shoe is located within a reservoir in a horizontal or high angle position at great depth).

Recommendation 33: It should be standard industry practice to re‐test a cemented casing shoe (that is, after WOC) whenever the plugs do not bump or the float valves apparently fail. Standard industry practice should require consideration of other tests in addition to a repeat pressure test.

Comment: Negative pressure test guidance should be the highest priority.

Recommendation 37: Consideration should be given to ways to ensure that contractors who are involved in barrier installation (such as cementing companies) have a direct interest in the performance of works to a proper standard. In particular, consideration should be given to (i) preventing contractors from avoiding the economic consequences of negligent installation of barriers; and/or (ii) imposing specific legislative standards of workmanship on contractors with respect to well control (similar to those which presently apply to licensees).

Comment: I’m not sure I agree with this one.  It seems to me that one party should be responsible and accountable for the well construction, and that should be the operator. Operators should choose contractors who have outstanding performance records, apply the highest standards, and work effectively with the operator’s team to ensure that barriers are properly installed and tested.


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Sad news: James Black, Operations Director for BP’s Gulf Coast Restoration Organization, died with two others when a small plane crashed in waters off the Florida Panhandle. A  former Texas solicitor general,  Gregory Scott Coleman, and Coleman’s mother-in-law, Charlene Black Miller, also died in the Piper Malibu crash Tuesday night.

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WA’s Mines and Petroleum Minister, Norman Moore, is firmly opposed to the Federal proposal for a single national regulator.

We are yet to be persuaded by this, or any other report, that a national regulator would be the way to go. Norman Moore


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Montara Blowout - Timor Sea

Our virtual vigil is over.  I awoke to messages from Odd, Anthea, and Kevin that the day had finally arrived – the Montara Report has been released. Not only do we have the Inquiry report, but also the government’s response and PTTEP’s action plan.  We’ll be digesting this over the next few days (along with a turkey dinner), but below are a few key items (direct quotes from the government’s response) that are likely to be of interest to BOE readers:

  • To create a single national regulator the Government will expand the functions of the existing National Offshore Petroleum Safety Authority (NOPSA) to include regulation of structural integrity, environment plans and day-to-day operations associated with petroleum activities in Commonwealth waters. There is a fundamental connection between the integrity of structures, the safety of people, and protection of the environment. The expanded authority – to be named the National Offshore Petroleum Safety and Environmental Management Authority (NOPSEMA) – will also regulate safety, integrity and environment plans for minerals extraction and greenhouse gas storage activities in Commonwealth waters.
  • In recognition of the global nature of the offshore petroleum industry, and Australia’s increasingly important role, the Government intends to host an international conference for governments, regulators and the offshore petroleum industry to share the lessons from Montara and to learn from the experience of other nations. The conference will beheld in Australia during 2011.
  • An important feature of objective-based regulation is that it encourages continuous improvement rather than acompliance mentality. It is essential that a regulatory system encourage the creator of the risk to move beyond minimum standards in a continuous effort for improvement, and not just accept the minimum standard. The risk of specific standards is that they can shift the burden of responsibility from the operator to the government and stifleinnovation. The Australian objective-based regime retains the focus clearly on the operator to evaluate risk andachieve fit for purpose design in order to reduce risk to ‘as low as reasonably practicable’.

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This well-written draft report is fascinating reading for those who closely followed the various attempts to contain and kill the Macondo well.

A couple of concerns:

  1. The report relies heavily on anecdotes and qualitative judgments attributed to unnamed individuals. For example, twelve sources are cited in the footnotes on page 6, but only one is mentioned by name.  No information is provided about the qualifications or responsibilities of the unnamed sources, so it is difficult to assess the significance of their comments.
  2. The narrative ends rather abruptly without any discussion about the decision to continue with the relief well after the successful static kill operation.  The report simply states that BP proceeded with the relief well to finally kill Macondo.  As indicated previously on BOE, this is not entirely accurate. Macondo was already killed, and the well could have been secured through conventional plugging and abandonment procedures.  The relief well was presumably continued to verify that the annulus was sealed and provide information that might be useful as part of the investigation.  However, the relief well did not kill the well and the intercept was not necessary for that purpose.

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BOP stack awaiting post-Macondo inspection (from gCaptain.com)

In my 11 May 2010 testimony before the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, I made ten recommendations. While many of the issues raised in that testimony are being addressed, one of the more important recommendations (no. 4) has received little or no attention. This recommendation calls for a public or private system for collecting and assessing failure date for blowout prevention equipment.  To the best of my knowledge, the only publicly available performance data for BOPE were collected by MMS and SINTEF and pertain to failures during BOP pressure testing, not failures during other operations.  How can we have a credible safety system without comprehensive failure data for such critical well control equipment?

Dr. Malcolm Sharples, an important BOE contributor, identified a number of BOP performance issues since Macondo.  Here are a few examples:

  1. During routine tests on the device, the locking system of one of the rams jammed in a locked position. Sevan is working with Petrobras and the supplier, Cameron, to find a solution.
  2. Reliance suspended all drilling work in the block after the Transocean rig Deepwater Expedition developed technical problems in its BOP. Reliance was drilling the KGV-D3-W1 well in the contract area since April 2010.
  3. The rig was offshore Australia for Shell early last month when newly installed BOP components failed during operations. Following several unsuccessful attempts to rectify the problems in the field, the failing BOP component is currently undergoing repairs in Singapore.

How is this information not important to every operator, regulator, and drilling contractor?  A comprehensive BOP failure reporting system should be a high and immediate priority for the offshore industry.  The information should be verified and published so that all may learn and future performance improved. Requirements for providing such information should be included in contracts and, if necessary, regulations.

An other major void that I have been talking about for years, without much success, is the absence of a comprehensive and verified international incident reporting system.  I assumed this would be universally recognized immediate necessity, and a critical element of the offshore industry’s initiatives agenda. Apparently that is not the case.  More on this to follow.

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Deepwater Horizon

Nothing new, but a but a very good Macondo commentary by Bill Campell, a retired Shell employee. Worth reading.

In my opinion this event is not so much about the well as designed but the well as installed. Installing a well is similar to any other civil engineering project in that what is installed has to be tested or commissioned before it is put into use, just as you would test a vessel or pipeline designed to contain hydrocarbons under pressure.   Wells, which are discovered to have a problem during integrity tests indicating for example a connection between the well and the reservoir, are worked over to rectify the problem and in a few hours after remedial activities have been undertaken, the integrity testing is re-commenced. Bill Campbell

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