Where is the Petrobras Deepwater Containment System?
Brazil today arguably has the largest deepwater drilling program in the world and most probably the biggest all around drilling effort in the world to boot.
In 2011 alone 162 new wells will be drilled in Brazil, an all time high and a 30% increase compared to last year. Of these, 53 wells will be drilled offshore.
It´s safe to assume that over 20% of these will be in deepwater pre-salt or deepwater post-salt plays along the Santos, Campos and Espirito Santo Basins. When Petrobras first announced this significant increase in their drilling program scope, a lot was said about expectations for more large pre-salt finds, increase in production, new drilling technologies, logistics problems and solutions and ultimately, profit.
Unfortunately precious little was said or written, for that matter, about more stringent drilling safety standards, the need for more efficient and timely inspections or projects to build subsea deployable containment systems.
A deepwater containment is vital for safeguarding deepwater drilling from massive spills caused by uncontrollable deepwater wells or a BOP blowout. Most importantly it is fundamental to safeguard the ocean and coastal environments.
The pre-salt boundaries are around 800km long and 200km wide, at least, pending probable new discoveries, which periodically will redraw these boundaries. There are deepwater plays or probable plays located anywhere from less than 100km from the coast to over 300km, such as the Tupi or Lula field. That is all the way to the edge of Brazil´s continental basin, offering a massive exploration area where a drilling operations could go tragically wrong, seriously affecting the health of various environmental habitats, underwater, on the surface and in the case of hundreds of seabirds, also in the sky.
I´m certainly not saying that Petrobras and more specifically the Petrobras research center (CENPES) in Rio de Janeiro are not developing a project for a deepwater containment system, only that if they are. they certainly are keeping it deep under wraps.
Sincerely I can´t see the point in keeping a vital deepwater drilling operations safeguard project hidden. Then again Petrobras is known for being very cagey about its strategic information. Go figure.
It would be even more worrisome if it came to light that such a project is not even being developed. Inexorably, that would be a real shocked, unfortunately such a possibility is all too real. Petrobras is a world within itself and they do things, when and if they see fit. It truly is a scary situation.
If you increase the tempo of a drilling effort, you increase the risks. In the case of deepwater drilling the risk are very high anyway, so it would be irresponsible to downplay the risks involved. A massive deepwater blowout is an all too real possibility when considering that pressures from certain wells, that can easily surpass 10,000 p.s.i..
Hopefully we´ll soon be receiving some serious information concerning a deepwater containment system for oil spills from the National Operator but for now we can only hope they have the good sense to pursue such a system and get it operational, soonest. If they can even be botherd to let us know.
Once things go sour, it will be pointless to blabber about how many spill control ships and how many trained response crews are available. Imagine if a massive spill occurs in ultra deep waters, over 200km from the coast. Right now, there would be no solution, other than drilling relief wells, and that is unacceptable.
If such a system is only to be built after a deepwater blowout goes out of control, then we are all in for a shocking experience, as the people and offshore workers at the GOM so recently experienced. Even shallow water drilling should have its own containment system available for immediate use, preferably both deep and shallow water containment systems should be available and stored in strategic locations along the coast and I don´t mean only one of each either, not with this amount of drilling.
For now we should applaud initiatives, such as that from ExxonMobil, Chevron, ConocoPhillips, and Shell which in a partnership created the Marine Well Containment Co., and have developed it to an operational stage. They will soon be able to deploy an efficient containment system for the GOM.
This system was created as a direct result of the Deepwater Horizon tragedy, not because of the safety consciousness or any forsight from O&G operators or service providers.
The line has always been (well at least until the GOM mega spill), that the deepwater safety equipments, as in a BOP for example, are infallible, not much thought was given to the possibility of human failure in adhering to safety procedures, as was the main case of the disaster at the GOM. This MWCC system was inspired by the deepwater containment emergency system developed to stop the spill at Macondo, and an absurd amount of oil was left spilling while this desperate development by trial and error went on.
At least we have this good news from MWCC:
The Marine Well Containment Co. has completed and made available its initial well containment response system. The system is for rapid containment response to an underwater well control incident in deepwaters of the Gulf of Mexico.
The system has a subsea capping stack to shut in oil flow or to flow the oil via flexible pipes and risers to surface vessels. The system also includes subsea dispersant injection equipment, manifolds, and, through mutual aid among members, capture vessels to provide surface processing and storage.
The interim system can operate in water depths up to 8,000 ft (2,438 m) and has storage and processing capacity for up to 60,000 b/d of liquids. The capping stack has a maximum operating pressure of 15,000 psi (103 MPa). The equipment is located on the U.S. Gulf Coast.
The Marine Well Containment Co. is a partnership among ExxonMobil, Chevron, ConocoPhillips, and Shell. MWCC says additional work on this initial system is under way with completion scheduled in 2012.
Since Petrobras has decided to take it upon itself to develop a deepwater containment system, it is high-time they let the world now how their efforts are progressing and when will we have an operational system ready for deployment.
Photo courtesy of MWCC
Above: MWCC´s Interim Containment System
Above: MWCC´s Expanded Containment System
Above: Photo of MWCC´s Interim Containment System
Above: Fire on the Deepwater Horizon drilling rig over the deepwater Macondo well at the GOM