Norway on Friday received the first of four sets of equipment to be deployed around the world to ensure a quick response to subsea oil well blowouts such as the one which BP PLC suffered in the Gulf of Mexico in 2010.
The equipment is being built at a cost of over $200-million (U.S.) and is backed by BP and eight other oil companies.
The aim is to reduce the time needed to cap uncontrolled wells to days or a few weeks, far faster than the 87 days it took to regain control at BP’s Macondo well, which spilled more than 4 million barrels of oil.
BP has already raised some $37-billion to pay for clean-up costs, fines and compensation, which already more than match this amount. Plaintiffs are demanding even more during the firm’s ongoing trial.
“The industry looked at the cost BP is facing and said we never want to deal with that again,” said Robert Limb, chief executive officer of Oil Spill Response, a not-for-profit group set up by oil firms.
“It’s a relatively cheap insurance policy,” he told Reuters after the first set of equipment was deployed at Stavanger on Norway’s west coast. “Macondo showed a clear gap in capabilities and this is intended to fill that.”
Three more will be placed in Singapore, South Africa and Brazil this year.
Oil firms will drill more than a 100 subsea wells this year, with much of that set for the North Sea, Brazil, East Africa and Australia.
Similar capping equipment is already in place in the United States and Britain but the new equipment will be the first that can be deployed globally.
“For Macondo, the response time would probably have been weeks, rather than days, but certainly not months,” said Keith Lewis, the project’s manager.
The new caps will be able to plug both oil and gas wells in waters up to 3,000 metres (10,000 feet) deep. They can hold back well flows equalling up to 100,000 barrels per day.
In case of extreme urgency, it could be flown to location, although that would require up to five Boeing 747 aircraft.
Central to the equipment is a 147-tonne capping stack, which can be placed on top of a blown well and kept there for up to two years.
Along with BP, the firms taking part are BG Group, Chevron, ConocoPhillips, Exxon Mobil, Petrobras, Royal Dutch Shell, Statoil and Total SA.