Intelligence brief: Blowout prevention rules under fire; GoM output at five-year high

Upstream oil and gas news you need to know.

Satellite image shows the effects of the Deepwater Horizon oil spill on the waters off Louisiana, five weeks after the accident (Image credit: NASA)

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Proposed blowout prevention rules come under fire in Senate

Industry representatives slammed the US government’s proposed Well Control Rule in a Senate hearing, arguing that its “strict” requirements could increase the risk of accidents.

The proposal, drafted by the Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement (BSEE) in response to the 2010 Deepwater Horizon tragedy at BP’s Macondo site in the Gulf of Mexico (GoM), sets out new rules on the maintenance and repair of blowout preventers. It also includes reforms in well design, well control, casing, cementing, real-time well monitoring, and subsea containment.

Erik Milito, representing the American Petroleum Institute, the US oil and gas industry’s largest trade association, said the proposal contained strict requirements on the “drilling margin” used for all wells regardless of any specific well characteristics.

“The drilling margin is the difference between the weight of drilling mud present in the well to keep fluids and hydrocarbons from flowing into the well and reaching the surface, and the weight that would cause the rock formations being drilled through to break down,” he said.

“This strict, prescriptive requirement denies the driller the ability to make risk-based decisions, in consultation with BSEE, and may create wellbore stability problems that add unnecessary risk to personnel, the environment and facilities.”

Mark Rockel, a principal consultant at environmental and safety advisory Ramboll Environ, said performance-based rules would stand a better chance of preventing well blowouts.

“Performance-based regulation tends not to constrain markets or technological innovation, but rather provides incentives for market mechanisms to spur technological advances, bringing about operational and environmental improvements efficiently as companies strive to compete,” he said.

There have been 23 well blowouts in the Gulf of Mexico in the past five years, according to the BSEE.

Brian Salerno, director of the BSEE, acknowledged that safety and technological advancements had been made in the past few years, but said specific issues needed to be addressed in order to reduce the number of incidents involving loss of well control.

The above table shows incidents from offshore fields reported to the BSEE, last updated on August 3, 2015 (Image credit: BSEE)

GoM oil output hits five-year high

Production of crude oil in the Gulf of Mexico (GoM) hit 1.69 million barrels per day (MMbbl/d) in September 2015, 19% higher than September last year, and the highest monthly figure since December 2009, according to the US Energy Information Administration (EIA).

Total US oil output was 9.32 MMbbl/d in September, a 4.2% rise from 12 months earlier.

Meanwhile, the EIA has expanded its monthly reporting with new data on API gravity, a measure of how heavy or light a petroleum liquid is compared to water, with higher numbers denoting lighter liquids.

In the first nine months of 2015, 31.4% of barrels produced in the GoM had an API gravity of less than 30, 65.6% weighed in at 30.1-40, 2.7% at 40.1-50, and 0.4% at 50-plus. This compared to a figure in the lower 48 states (including GoM), of 14.9% at less than 30, 34.0% at 30.1-40, 38.9% at 40.1-50, and 12.2% at 50-plus.

Lasers play role of scarecrow on offshore platforms

Guano – or bird poop, to use the vernacular – can cause costly damage to helidecks on offshore rigs, but now a Dutch company claims to have developed a solution that ensures the safety of helicopters and birds alike.

The Aerolaser Helipad is an automated device that combines laser and sound to scare birds into keeping distance from helidecks, according to designer Bird Control Group. It can be configured to the specific conditions of an installation and has “minimal impact” on the environment.

Cleaning a helideck of guano can cost up to €100,000 ($90,000) per platform, according to Bird Control Group. Normally unmanned installations tend to be most affected by guano accumulation, with the UK’s Health and Safety Executive having recorded instances where more than 90% of a helideck has been covered.

Bird Control CEO Steinar Henskes said his company teamed up with CHC Helicopter and Total E&P Nederland, a subsidiary of energy giant Total, to prove the technology. Total is now working with Bird Control to install the system at three other locations.

“By implementing this bird-repelling system, Total is the first oil company in the world to integrate its offshore activities with nature in such a sustainable way,” Henskes said.

The World Wildlife Fund has recognized the technology as animal-friendly, he added.