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A global oil spill response system

02nd April 2013

The project manager for the much-anticipated Subsea Well Response Project (SWRP), Keith Lewis sits down with Oil & Gas Technology to discuss the importance and scope of the initiative as well as the development of its deepwater well capping systems

A global oil spill response system
SWRP was launched in May 2011 to enhance international capabilities to respond to a subsea well incident. Copyright: News on Request

The Subsea Well Response Project (SWRP) was launched in May 2011 on the recommendations of the International Association of Oil & Gas Producers (OGP) to enhance international capabilities to respond to a subsea well incident. SWRP is a non-profit joint initiative between affiliates of nine major oil and gas companies: BG Group, BP, Chevron, ConocoPhillips, ExxonMobil, Petrobras, Shell, Statoil and Total.

The current project team consists of technical experts and senior management from each member company. It is operated by Shell, on behalf of the nine members, with headquarters in Stavanger, Norway. The specific focus of the team based at this location is to examine ways of improving the industry’s response to deepwater subsea well incidents.

OGT: How has SWRP contributed to improving industry response capabilities on a global scale?

Keith Lewis: International cooperation between companies and regulators is vital to ensuring an effective response to a subsea well-control incident anywhere in the world. The equipment, available to subscribers, will provide new subsea well response capabilities across the globe.

The collaboration with OSRL (Oil Spill Response Ltd) will allow the equipment to be kept on constant standby to efficiently respond to a subsea well control situation. SWRP believes the combination of advanced equipment, international storage locations and suitability for air or sea transportation will enhance effective response options around the world.

OGT: This project will not only be financed by nine major oil and gas companies, but also serve as a platform which brings together their technical know-how. Could you give us some details as to what these players are bringing to the table in terms of technology and expertise?

KL: Members of the technical team working on the subsea well response project are on secondment from the member companies. The finished capping stacks and dispersant toolboxes are a direct result of this unprecedented collaboration. We are sharing knowledge, local expertise and best practices to enhance international well incident intervention capabilities.

The global experience and local insight provided by the nine companies was key to ensuring the equipment would be capable of responding to the majority of potential subsea well control incidents.

OGT: What role did research and development play in your project and what sort of technological challenges did you face?

KL: Research and development played a central role in the progress of SWRP. Being able to call on the expertise of the nine member companies and contractors ensured a wealth of industry experience and informed each stage of the development process.

SWRP studied existing technologies and capabilities, as well as the availability of components already stored around the world to provide a solution that offered response capabilities above and beyond those already available.

OGT: What are the key features and specifications of your well capping systems and how are they unique?

KL: The intervention system includes four capping systems, two 18 3/4” bore capping stacks developed to handle pressure up to 15kpsi and two 7 1/16” bore capping stacks designed for pressure up to 10kpsi. The four systems can all operate at depths of up to 3,000 metres of water.

All of the capping stacks were designed to share a standard configuration, with common pipework, valves, chokes and spools all rated to 15kpsi. The common framework gives greater flexibility by utilising interchangeable gate valves and rams. The key difference is the use of 7 1/16” 10k gate valves for the two 10k stacks and 18 3/4” 15k rams for the two 15k stacks.

When combined with the dispersant toolkit, the flexibility of the stacks allows for a wider range of response options across the globe.

OGT: SWRP has stated that this technology will be deployed this year in Northern Europe, South America, Africa and Asia-Pacific. How will operators have access to the equipment and how will it potentially be used?

KL: Operators will have the opportunity to access the equipment on a subscription basis. OSRL owns the equipment and will handle all subscriptions. Subscribers nominate the wells that will be covered in accordance with the terms of the subscription agreement.

In the unlikely event of a subsea well control issue, the capping stack and dispersant kit can be deployed by a subscriber to an incident location from the closest regional storage location. The sets of equipment are designed to be deployed by sea and/or air to provide a flexible and timely response.

OGT: How did the partnership with OSRL come about and how has it developed in recent years?

KL: Our partnership with OSRL was formally announced in April 2012, and the relationship has continued to grow. OSRL will own and maintain the equipment and make it available to subscribers in the unlikely event of an incident occurring.

Working with OSRL was a natural fit as it is the largest global provider of oil spill response and preparedness services, operating from offices in the UK, Bahrain, Singapore, Ghana, Houston and Indonesia. As well as this international reach, OSRL’s membership is representative of a significant proportion of global oil production. As a result, we are confident of its ability to make the equipment available for deployment by a subscriber, should it be needed.

OGT: As international oil and gas companies become increasingly more all-reaching in terms of exploration, do you believe that today there is a need for active global containment and response solutions?

KL: SWRP defines containment as a “system used to bring leaking oil from a subsea wellhead in a controlled way to the surface for storage and disposal.”

Containment solutions can be a useful part of any wider incident response programme, depending on the nature of the scenario. For this reason, SWRP is now exploring a containment concept based on standard available hardware. The containment requirements for individual incidents are likely to differ significantly; therefore further feasibility studies must be conducted.

Capping will always be the primary response approach, and SWRP believes that in the majority of cases, capping will be fully successful. However, containment provides yet another level of response contingency.

OGT: How do you see this project helping the industry in the coming decade? Are there any plans to deploy your well capping systems in other major oil and gas hotspots or to develop new technologies for subsea well-control in regions?

KL: The SWRP intervention system will have an international reach and broad industry benefits as it covers a number of deepwater oil and gas basins worldwide.

In addition to the collaboration with OSRL for the provision of equipment, SWRP has undertaken a series of briefings with regulators around the globe to ensure they are aware of the potential benefits the system could bring to well-control operations in their region.

It is important to note that the equipment is applicable to a broad range of subsea wells. If subscribers wish OSRL to further the technology developed during the project to tackle future challenges then they can provide feedback to OSRL through a subscriber technical advisory forum.

This interview was conducted with the help of Keith Lewis, project manager, SWRP and Tormod Slåtsveen, communications lead, SWRP.