Sheila McNulty Oil industry tries to prove it can drill responsibly

Deepwater Horizon explosionThe big question for months has been what would happen if there was a significant spill in the deepwater outside the Gulf of Mexico. Following BP’s Macondo disaster, the industry worked together to build two spill response systems for this area. But nobody said what would happen if a deepwater disaster unfolded in the waters offshore Ghana or Brazil.

Now the industry has gathered together to address that question. Nine of the world’s biggest oil and gas companies – BG Group, BP, Chevron, ConocoPhillips, ExxonMobil, Petrobras, Shell, Statoil and Total have launched the Subsea Well Response Project (SWRP), an initiative designed to  enhance the industry’s capability to respond to subsea  well control incidents.

Shell is going to be operator of the project. Bill Tanner, Shell spokesman, explains:

This is an effort to study and recommend what is fit for purpose and appropriate for locations around the world.

The project team will work to design a capping toolbox with a range of equipment to allow wells to be shut in, and will design additional hardware for the subsea injection of dispersant. It will further assess the need for and feasibility of a containment system for shared use.

Keith Lewis, former vice president of front-end studies for Shell in the Americas, has been named manager of the project. He notes that the International Association of Oil & Gas Producers’ Global Industry Response Group has issued a comprehensive set of recommendations for intervention on flowing wells following a well control incident:

SWRP will now work to deliver on these objectives over the course of 2011. Designing systems that can be deployed effectively in different regions of the world is an immense challenge but member companies have assigned leading specialists to the task.

This is welcome news for the industry. Without spill response plans, wherever deepwater drilling is taking place, the industry is putting its future at risk.

Another Macondo, even as far away as West Africa, would surely provide ammunition to those who believe the US is being too lenient in letting the industry get back to work in the gulf.