Subsea Well Blowout Drill Under Way

Testing well control equipment that would be used to cap a blown well in the ultra-deep Gulf of Mexico, the exercise began July 24 and will last more than a week, BSEE announced.

The federal Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement announced the first-ever drill deploying critical pieces of state-of-the-art well control equipment to the ultra-deep seabed of the Gulf of Mexico had begun July 24 and is part of a series of planned and unannounced exercises and inspections to ensure oil and gas exploration and production companies can fulfill their oil spill response plans and respond effectively to a spill.

BSEE said this multi-week exercise involves deploying and operating a capping stack to the sea floor in about 7,000 feet of water. The exercise started at 8:10 a.m. CDT and employs the Marine Well Containment Company (MWCC). The Houston-based company may not be a household name but should be familiar to industry professionals; the not-for-profit company was founded by ExxonMobil, Chevron, ConocoPhillips, and Shell in July 2010, shortly after the gulf oil spill began, to provide well containment equipment and technology specifically in the U.S. Gulf of Mexico. MWCC membership is open to all oil and gas operators working in that territory.

The type of equipment being tested would be used if another incident similar to the well blowout and subsequent explosion on the Deepwater Horizon drilling rig in the gulf off the coast of Louisiana. U.S. Interior Secretary Ken Salazar in May directed MWCC to conduct the live drill, saying it would serve as a test of readiness for a worst-case scenario and a trainng opportunity under real-time conditions.

"This exercise will help further enhance industry's preparedness by deploying one important component of their well control capabilities to the sea floor," said BSEE Director Jim Watson. "Testing this equipment in real-time conditions and ultra-deep water depths will help ensure that the MWCC is ready and able to respond in a moment's notice should the need arise."

The exercise also tests operators' ability to obtain and schedule the deployment of supporting systems necessary for successful containment, such as debris removal equipment and other oil collection devices. BSEE will provide updates during the exercise at its website.

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