Global deepwater response
Ready to respond: Global deepwater response
It’s not every day you meet someone in BP who can tell you exactly how much weight the runway at Azerbaijan’s Heydar Aliyev International Airport can withstand, which roads in Egypt require permits, or the maximum height that a piece of equipment can be if it’s going to fit on a jumbo jet. But then Geir Karlsen is not just anyone.
Norwegian-born Karlsen is, in fact, the man who leads the team in charge of more than 250 individual pieces of equipment that make up BP’s new global deepwater well cap and tooling package. Built in 2011 by engineers who capped the leaking Macondo well in the Gulf of Mexico (GoM), the biggest piece of equipment is the 100- tonne, two-part capping stack, which stands almost 10 metres (32 feet) tall. Other tools include debris removal tools, a remotely operated vehicle (ROV) tool kit, oil dispersion tools, a subsea hydraulic power unit, a hydraulic accumulator system called a ‘six-shooter’ and massive shears to cut through drilling riser pipe. Located at a facility in Houston, the whole package was designed and modified based on lessons learned during the oil spill response in 2010, following the accident on the Deepwater Horizon rig.
Together, the equipment weighs some 500 tonnes, requires 35 trailers to move it and seven heavy-lift aircraft to ship it. If needed, the equipment can be transported anywhere in the world within 10 days; which is where Karlsen’s newfound logistical knowledge comes in. As part of the team that managed simultaneous operations (SIMOPS) during the oil spill response, he has a unique understanding of how much effort goes into moving equipment around.
“Our mandate is to have this package ready so we can begin arrangements to transport it on a 24/7 basis,” says Karlsen. “So, we have carried out logistics surveys in a number of locations to understand airport capabilities and make sure they have the equipment we need to offload the package. We know that runways have to be a certain width and able to withstand a certain weight. We know that only certain airports can service the Boeing 747-200 series and the Antonov An-124 heavy-lift aircraft. We look at roads, permit issues, height and weight restrictions, bridges and tunnels to understand how to get the kit from the airport to the BP site.” The level of detail is immense, and as each of BP’s businesses around the world develops its own detailed response plan, they must incorporate Karlsen’s logistical needs.
Being ready at a moment’s notice means also being sure that the equipment itself works, and Karlsen is responsible for ensuring that it is regularly serviced. “Servicing and maintenance is critical,” he says. “That means operating, testing and checking that everything works as designed.”
To do that, Karlsen and his team carry out quarterly service checks. These include taking samples to make sure that temperature fluctuations aren’t causing fluids in the system to age and disintegrate, testing components for corrosion and understanding how many times a valve needs turning in order for it to open and close properly. Any slight variation between services is fixed and documented. According to Karlsen, “It’s important that we understand changes in the system and those tell-tale signs may indicate that something is not right.”
Prevent and respondBuilding this package is just one of a number of actions BP has been taking to further strengthen its abilities to both prevent and respond to an incident. Those actions have been divided into five areas (see panel) and are designed to help BP do everything it can to prevent another accident, while preparing itself for swift response should an incident occur. As head of BP’s global deepwater response (GDR) team, Richard Morrison has been involved in developing BP’s capability since October 2010 and believes the decision to build the package was the right thing for BP to do.
He explains: “Once we’d capped the well, our immediate focus was on developing a simple ‘lessons learned’ workshop that we could take to our teams around the world so they could understand what it took to be prepared for an incident like this. The global wells team was already incorporating lessons from BP’s internal investigation into its drilling plans, but our focus was on preparation and readiness.
“When we sat down in those first workshops in October 2010, we realised that we needed the ability to cap a well in a certain amount of time. Industry bodies, such as the Marine Well Containment Company [MWCC – of which BP is part], had begun developing their own response plans and tools, but we’d made commitments around the world to drill wells, and we wanted to be sure in ourselves that we could respond.”
While BP prepared to respond to an incident, it also took new action to prevent one happening in the first place. That prevention effort includes an 85-strong team from BP’s global wells organisation (GWO) that is supporting implementation of all 26 recommendations from the company’s internal investigation into the accident and oil spill. The GWO is also increasing standardisation in the way BP designs and drills its wells around the world and implementing a wells start-up checklist that has to be verified by relevant team leaders and operations managers.
BP has also made a series of specific voluntary operational commitments that go beyond the regulatory requirements, and is moving towards the use of subsea blowout preventers (BOPs) equipped with no fewer than two sets of blind shear rams on all dynamically positioned mobile drilling rigs and third-party verification of its BOP testing and maintenance.
In the GoM specifically, a new 24-hour monitoring centre has been set up, complete with a 25-screen video wall, realtime information feeds and instant communications between BP’s offshore rigs and its experts back onshore. BP has also relied on the help of a former senior NASA manager to bring 24-hour monitoring experiences from NASA’s Mission Control centre, also in Houston. “Tapping into this kind of experience is integral to the way in which BP is further strengthening its ability to help prevent another oil spill,” says Mike Zanghi, vice president for GoM wells. “With the Houston Monitoring Center, we can now monitor for potential well control scenarios from onshore 24/7, along with having access to specialists who have key skills in well control and experience in offshore operations. Using standardised processes and procedures, the monitoring centre is an extra set of eyes to monitor key parameters of real-time operational data, including flow-in, flow-out, pit levels, tripping displacements and pressures.”
Meanwhile, Morrison’s GDR team continues to work across BP functions to help share lessons to further advance safety, as well as response capabilities. The group itself is relatively small – just seven full-time members of staff. Instead, it relies on a wide range of experts with specific experience in drilling and oil spill response to deliver the workshops.
According to Morrison, the team is kept deliberately small: “At some point, the need for my team to deliver these workshops will diminish, since those lessons will become the way we do things naturally. With that in mind, we thought wouldn’t it be better if this content is delivered by those people sitting in the very teams that are working on prevention or containment or response? Many of our experts were involved in the GoM response and they know how to deliver these messages back to their teams in a way that is going to ensure they come to life for frontline staff.”
Real solutionsSo, while the need for a global deepwater well cap and tooling package was identified within the GDR team – which also led the project – experts in BP’s global projects organisation and GWO contributed to the design and construction. Once built, the responsibility for maintaining the equipment was formally transferred to GWO. “That’s important,” says Andy Krieger, vice president for wells operations, “because it helps create a real, workable solution for our worldwide operations and that we own the accountability. As our business changes and develops in the future, we need to maintain the package’s functionality.”
That said, everyone in Morrison’s team has been selected for the depth of their experience. So, for example, GDR senior advisor Bill Grames has a wealth of operational experience that makes him the ideal person to help BP integrate and shape the industry’s global containment and response efforts.
Like Morrison, Grames believes it is important that all this capability sits within the businesses and functions. “What we do is make connections and set challenges,” he explains. “Each of our five capability areas falls within a specific business or function and so this small team bolts them all together with a single, coherent plan.”
Lessons learnedThe early workshops that Morrison and the team worked on have evolved over time from an internal, high-level, ‘lessons learned’ approach to a more detailed, external programme, that shows participants, such as regulators and governments, what actions BP is taking and what capability it has in place to respond in any given location. It has meant Morrison and his team spending time travelling to regions such as Brazil, Australia, the UK, China and India to provide more insight into BP’s own expectations, as well as practical examples of its response preparedness.
Morrison is clear that these workshops are not about saying BP knows best, but sharing its experiences and providing an insight into the level of effort involved in responding to an oil spill. It is also continually adapting the workshops according to interest and, in May this year, the company ran a large SIMOPS workshop for around 150 industry, regulatory and government participants to better understand what it takes to manage a large fleet of vessels and rigs during a response.
As well as these one-off events, BP is involved in a variety of day-to-day conversations with industry bodies around the world, many of whom are looking to raise standards of prevention, while strengthening response capabilities.
One of those bodies is the MWCC, a USbased independent company that was set up in 2010 to be better prepared in the event that an operator lost control of a deepwater well in the GoM. BP joined MWCC in January 2011 and made a commitment to share its knowledge and Deepwater Horizon equipment with the organisation, to create an interim response system for the GoM, while MWCC got to work designing and building a brand new capping and containment package. The equipment BP has supplied includes the riser, manifold and containment systems that were deployed for use during the Deepwater Horizon response.
Greg Rohloff has been closely involved in the work with MWCC since November 2010. “Every piece of equipment that we have handed over comes with its own ‘project’ book, detailing the installation and operating procedures, drawings and photographs that were developed and used during the response,” he says. “By providing our resources, we’ve filled a response capability gap for the GoM, while MWCC builds its permanent package.”
Rohloff oversaw a group of around 30 BP engineers who recovered the equipment from the seabed, cleaned and refurbished it for potential future use. The team has also helped design and build new equipment for the MWCC to use in the GoM, acting, says Rohloff, almost like a small engineering company. “We’ve worked on two or three pieces of new equipment that will allow our industry a lot more flexibility should it ever have to respond again.”
One of those pieces of equipment is a riser isolation and quick disconnect system, known as a fluid transfer system. This expands the capability of a drill ship when acting as a response vessel, by giving it the ability to connect to a leaking well via a flexible ‘jumper’ and subsea containment system. This capability was not available during the Deepwater Horizon response and BP had to use floating production storage and offloading vessels brought in from other parts of the world. This new system would allow the industry to begin collecting oil and gas more quickly in the event of another spill.
With an interim solution in place and a permanent package under construction, MWCC has turned its attention to preparing maintenance programmes for the new kit – like BP’s own equipment, the MWCC package will need to be stored in controlled conditions and regularly serviced to ensure it is ready for deployment –as well as supporting members as they conduct response drills and getting very clear on what its remit is.
Rohloff says: “Early on, people had different expectations of the MWCC. So, early work was geared to create clarity on what MWCC is responsible for and what is expected of an individual operator in the event of an incident. This is something the regulators were very keen on as well, so we’ve developed a checklist that clearly identifies who is expected to manage each item.”
Another key US entity is the Center for Offshore Safety (COS), created by the American Petroleum Institute (API) at the recommendation of the US president’s National Commission on the Deepwater Horizon accident. It is mandatory that all API members working in the deepwater GoM join the centre. Launched in March 2011, its remit is to encourage wider sharing of best practice and lessons learned, and is already planning a safety forum in 2013 to encourage greater interaction between the industry.
BP plays a significant role in the COS: GoM regional vice president James Dupree is a board member, Brad Smolen is his representative, while Jeff Zinkham is on secondment to support the day-to-day running of the centre.
Best practiceSince its first meeting in August 2011, the board has met every month and approved a three-year strategic plan for the centre. Contained within that are 15 specific action plans, two of which BP leads on. “The first is putting together a practice on how to conduct offshore leadership visits,” says Smolen. “This is what we would expect a leader to do when they visit a site, how they verify that things are being done according to safety management plans. The second is compiling and analysing ‘leading’ and ‘lagging’ safety performance indicators.”
As well as being a conduit for sharing best practice, the centre is helping members implement new mandatory safety regulations and creating a more formal process by which those regulations can be audited.
Smolen says: “The idea is that we will provide accreditation to the third-party organisations that carry out those audits to provide a greater level of rigour to the process. In addition, although the regulatory requirement only states that operators have to conduct these audits, we’re going to require that our contractor members do the same.”
This kind of industry interaction isn’t confined to the US. In the UK, BP participated in the Oil Spill Prevention and Response Advisory Group, created to provide a focal point for the sector’s review of industry practices in the UK and which built its own capping stack for use in the North Sea.
Meanwhile, the company is also involved with the Global Industry Response Group (GIRG), which has been tasked with improving the industry’s well incident prevention, intervention and response capabilities. BP is involved in both intervention and response and is one of nine participants in the GIRG-recommended Subsea Well Response Project (SWRP), which is working with Oil Spill Response Limited (OSRL) to build and maintain four capping systems and two hardware kits for the subsea application of dispersants.
Bill Grames participated in GIRG’s intervention group and explains how SWRP came about. “GIRG assessed the work going on in the GoM with MWCC and decided it was ideal for the Gulf, but perhaps not for the variety of ocean conditions in which its global members find themselves operating. So, it was agreed that a range of tools, including capping stacks, debris-clearing tools and dispersant systems, would be developed and stored in Africa, southeast Asia, the North Sea and South America.”
The level of activity is remarkable, and it is important that activity is coordinated even between industry bodies to ensure that the very best practices are implemented and that the people drilling the wells have the very best skills.
This is where the International Association of Drilling Contractors (IADC) comes in. IADC’s mission is to improve industry health, safety and environmental practices, advance drilling technology and champion response standards and regulations. It also runs an extensive series of conferences and training seminars, and produces communications material to help provide education to drillers.
Knowledge shareAndy Krieger is BP’s liaison with IADC. He explains how BP is working with IADC to strengthen some of its training programmes. “We’re currently helping it review its WellCAP programme, which delivers internationally-recognised well control training for operators and contractors and we’ve also agreed to support a new project that is focused on enhancing the IADC key skills assessments. It’s early days, but the project will update the required skills for key positions on drilling rigs and may be extended to include training and assessment.”
BP’s involvement with all these industry groups and others is a key part of its ongoing future response strategy. To be successful, the process must be a live one, adapting as the industry changes, while ensuring that the best knowledge and experience is captured and shared by one and all. That way, BP and its industry counterparts know that the practical action that is being taken now will stand them in good stead for years to come.