You are on page 1of 29




Committee Members and Contributors

John Garner (Chairman), Boots & Coots

David Barnett, IPT Global, LLC
Pat Ljungdahl, Boots & Coots
Greg Rohloff, BP
Don Shackelford, Boots & Coots

COPYRIGHT © 2015 143


Chapter 6 Emergency Response
6.1 Emergency response planning.....................................................................................................................145

6.2 Emergency response plans...........................................................................................................................147

6.3 Subsea well source control...........................................................................................................................150

6.4 Relief well.......................................................................................................................................................158

6.5 Factors influencing intervention methods................................................................................................163

6.6 ROV capability................................................................................................................................................165

6.7 Spill control.....................................................................................................................................................167

6.8 References.......................................................................................................................................................171

144 COPYRIGHT © 2015


6.1 EMERGENCY Table 6.1 — Levels of well control emergency

RESPONSE PLANNING Level 1: Response Level 2: Response Level 3: Response
Least Severe More Severe Most Severe
6.1.1 Objective
Kick detection Non-routine well Loss of control
In this section we propose giving the reader background and control condition of the well at
the seafloor or
information necessary to: surface

• Generate an emergency response plan for subsea drilling;

• Understand the success factors for emergency response Each level of response should have its own appropriate
in well planning and relief well drilling to facilitate a sequence of pre-planned responses and resources assigned to
successful dynamic kill operation; it. A suggested outline of materials and responses is presented
• Understand the basic techniques of spill control; in Emergency Response Plans.
• Understand the other factors of direct intervention of the
incident well.
6.1.3 Purpose and value of emergency
Of the many tasks involved in subsea operations, prevention response drills
of well control problems requires all-out effort. The early
establishment and testing of a well-orchestrated emergency Emergency response drills are sometimes viewed as dramatic
response must be given equal attention in the event well play-acting. However, a well-conducted emergency response
control problems arise. drill provides significant value focused on clear objectives:
incorporating lessons learned from real events to help prevent
It is important to clearly establish emergency response incidents and help the team to understand the importance
priorities well ahead of any potential event. A focus on problem for conducting these drills. The elements and participants
solving should take precedence over philosophical debate on necessary for a successful drill require careful consideration.
big picture issues. A generally accepted ranking of priorities is
as follows: Emergency response drills provide the following benefits to the
1. Protection of health and safety of people,
2. Protection of the environment, • Test assumptions about readiness;
3. Protection of the physical plant for source control, • Confirm that communications networks and procedures
4. Protection of the mineral resource. are working and current;
• Indoctrinate new staff to procedures;
Risk identification is only the first step taken to accomplish the • Focus thinking on non-routine problems;
goal of risk management. This is the process of generating and • Clarify plans and intentions to regulatory authorities;
execution of a plan of action to reduce risk. • Demonstrate competence;
• Guide improvements to prevention and emergency
Risks may be general or well/operation specific. One conclusion response.
in risk identification and management may be the decision not
to undertake the operation. These benefits are discussed further below.

Often operators and contractors make it a practice to over Testing assumptions about readiness
respond and then de-escalate their response rather than take
a slower, more deliberate response, and then risk having to The presumption is that fit-for-purpose plans are in place and
make up for lost ground or errors. that all of the parties involved in plan execution are aware
of the conditions and responsibilities related to each plan.
However, conditions, responsibilities, and people change
6.1.2 Levels of well control emergency with such frequency that yesterday's plan may be forgotten,
response unknown, or outdated.

For clarity of communication, the severity of well control Testing the plan on a periodic basis provides valuable
incidents is often broken into three categories shown in Table adjustments in approach to emergency response as well as
6.1. enhancing participant’s awareness of the blowout contingency
plan (BCP). Emergency response drills are often conducted

COPYRIGHT © 2015 145


annually or coincident with major changes in operations, Focus on non-routine problems
regulatory expectations or changes in key personnel.
Major incidents are rare in our industry. In general, most Operational communications networks personnel are not likely to experience enough crises to develop
and procedures expertise in handling high-risk events. Coping with a serious
well control problem can involve managing a number of
The ability to act swiftly and surely depends on access to difficulties, including the following:
accurate phone numbers, fax numbers, and other relevant
communication channels. Maintenance and testing of the • Attempting to diagnose problems based on excited,
emergency response plan manages the risk of failure in conflicting and baffling reports;
communications down to a more acceptable level. • Meeting demands that everything and everyone get 100%
attention immediately; Indoctrination for new staff • Prioritizing and delegating tasks.

An emergency response plan may be a large encompassing A properly planned and executed drill can provide some
document. In the normal course of busy operations the focus is practice for a task that demands expertise many may never
on the crisis of the day, and may not consider the plan that may experience.
have prevented the incident or could have helped mitigate the
problem. Indoctrination programs for new staff should include Clarifying plans and intentions to
awareness training on the BCP. regulatory authorities

Conflicts in expectations of performance and actions need to

be settled before any crisis. Disagreements may arise during
Table 6.2 — Features of a proper emergency an emergency, but disagreements about primary objectives,
response drill. jurisdictions, and methods can be minimized beforehand by
the use of drills involving both operators and authorities.
Requirements Comments

Involve key staff and Include operator and Demonstrating competence
contractors, and invite contractor decision- makers
The actions of the operator in a drill can provide assurance
regulatory agencies named who provide procedures
to regulators, shareholders, and the public sector that the
in the response plan and plans for the
industry is competent to perform as required.
who would be expected emergency response
to respond in a real
emergency Improving prevention measures and emergency
Test the information system Hold realistic press
for upward communication conferences and interviews Because conditions change, the plan must accommodate
to management, the media, with pointed and probing change. Furthermore, techniques and technology improve.
and the public questions Emergency response drills and a follow-up debriefing identify
the need for change and improvement.
Consider a time- Compress the drill and
compressed, realistic model actions of the first
scenario 12 to 24 hours within a 6.1.4 Features of a proper emergency
reasonable timeframe for
the drill
response drill
A well-conducted emergency response drill may initially
Test all Exercise key contacts and
involve several months of preparation by staff and advisors
communications links communications tools
experienced in planning and conducting them. The drill should
named in the emergency
include the characteristics shown in Table 6.2.
response plan

Involve significant Deploy observers with All personnel, contractors, and agencies
debriefing, feedback, and experience in planning,
follow-up action to correct conducting, monitoring, The emergency response drill should involve operator and
identified problems and close out of drills contractor staff responsible for decision making and providing
procedures and plans for the emergency response.

146 COPYRIGHT © 2015


Representatives from the groups shown in Table 6.3 should be

Table 6.3 — Recommended participants in emergency
aware of their roles in an emergency response drill response drill. Communication to management, media, Administrative • Management;

and public • Media Relations;
• Human Resources;
The public will expect accurate and timely information. • Accounting and Purchasing;
Conflicting information will need to be clarified and rumors • Logistics;
refuted with fact. Realistic press conferences and interviews • Legal.
with pointed and probing questions should be a part of
the emergency response drill. When those responsible for Regulatory • Environmental;
authorities • Marine;
supplying information are consumed with the operation, the
process of providing the right quantity of quality information • Federal/State/Local fish and game;
to management and the media is one of the most difficult • Federal/State/Local government.
challenges facing the emergency response organization. Consideration for time compressed realistic Spill control • Operator’s environmental and
scenario regulatory departments;
• Spill control contractor.
Experts who are not emergency responders in the drill should
generate a realistic scenario. They should also participate in
the drill to update the scenario as conditions change and in Source control • Operator’s drilling management and
response to actions taken during the drill. The drill can be engineering;
time compressed and model actions of the first 12 to 24 hours • Contractor’s rig management;
within a reasonable timeframe for the drill. This will challenge • Well control contractors;
the organization to move quickly and confidently, and to add a • Geologic and reservoir advisors;
dimension of realistic tension to the process. • Facilities and production operations
and engineering groups. Testing communications links
of potential hazards and the development of a systematic
Confirm all key contacts and communications tools contained response have become essential.
in the emergency response plan.
The methodology associated with this hazard identification Debriefing, feedback, and follow-up and response strategy formulation is typically referred to as
the BCP.
In drills, as much time should be dedicated to the follow-up
as was spent in preparation for the drill. To do this requires The following sections will discuss organizational aspects of the
dedicated observers with experience in planning, conducting, BCP. will be discussed in this chapter:
monitoring, and close out of drills.
• Organizational aspects of the BCP;

• Source control containment topics.

RESPONSE 6.2.2 Organizational aspects of BCP

An effective, coordinated response to any emergency requires
6.2.1 Well control response planning a pre-determined organizational structure. This is especially
true with regard to subsea blowouts since the technical and
Well control events associated with subsea drilling, production, logistical aspects are among the most complex in the industry.
and workover activities present unique technical and logistical
challenges to the operator and service company personnel. The key to a sound, effective BCP is to designate and properly
organize a team of individuals with the right combination
The consequences that result from a sustained blowout in of technical and operational capabilities. Strong leadership
a subsea environment may be far reaching and could have providing direction for the technical and operational staff is
a lasting impact on public perception. The identification essential for a successful outcome.

COPYRIGHT © 2015 147


There is no single organizational scheme that is appropriate for 6.2.3 Source control containment plan
all operators. Each company must make an evaluation of their
level of experience, internal resources, corporate organization, Individual wells source control containment plans utilize the
and operating philosophy in order to determine the best area BCP as the upper-level guide but also include specific
approach to managing a major subsea blowout. aspects of that particular well.

An evaluation of each district or business unit's (BU) ability to • Individual well connectors / hardware;
adequately manage a crisis is inherent in this process. This • Seafloor characteristics and nearby infrastructure;
means looking closely at the resources and capabilities of each • Unique regulatory boundaries;
BU. • Locally available resources;
• Individual wellbore diagram;
• Can the BU provide sufficient personnel to manage the • Unique reservoir characteristics.
crisis and carry on with other business functions?
• How will the BU handle the large capital outlays that are
often required? 6.2.4 The BTF
• Does a particular BU have personnel with the experience
and operational/technical background to make the The BTF (blowout task force) must be well organized and
decisions and implement the solution? adequately staffed with operator and service company
personnel who are capable of performing the following tasks:
These BU-specific evaluations often result in an additional plan
for specific corporate support of the BUs during a crisis. The • Analyzing the technical, operational, and safety-related
extent and nature of this corporate support will be dependent aspects of the situation;
upon the organizational framework and operating philosophy • Making proper, informed decisions and formulating
of the operator. precise plans;
• Implementing the intervention plans in the best possible
Experience has shown that the BCP is most effective when it manner;
is linked to an overall plan to respond to emergencies of all • Formulating alternative/contingency plans based on
types (i.e., oil spills, natural disasters, business interruption, experience and available information;
terrorism, civil unrest, etc.). • Handling the ancillary aspects of the crisis (public
relations, legal, financial, liaison, etc.).
There are many reasons for developing the BCP as a subset of
a more comprehensive crisis management plan. These include: Blowouts do not always have a straightforward solution. There
are many instances where precise plans cannot be formulated
• Standardized format for the initial response to all until certain information is obtained. Thus, it is important that
emergencies; the BTF be capable of formulating feasible strategies based on
• Decrease duplication of effort (many crises require experience and judgment.
similar support from Public Relations, Legal and Finance
organizations); When adequate information is obtained, the most viable
• Coordination of simultaneous emergency response and solution can be implemented without delay.
intervention operations (i.e., blowout intervention and
spill response). Adequate experience allows the BTF to constantly monitor the
intervention and identify possible problems. Alternative plans
The group of personnel charged with the management of the should be developed in case the situation changes and can be
blowout recovery is referred to by many names. Examples implemented with minimum delay.
include Incident Command Organization, emergency response
team (ERT), emergency task force (ETF), and blowout task force The organizational structure of the BTF for a major subsea
(BTF), to name a few. blowout should include the management of direct intervention
activities and, simultaneously, relief well operations (in addition
The name designated within a given operator's organization to the other non-operational duties). See Figure 6.1.
should be consistent with other names specified in other
emergency response plans. For the purposes of this document,
this group of people will be referred to as the BTF. 6.2.5 Blowout response plan structure
The BCP should provide an integrated and systematic
approach to well control incident management. The document
should provide the policies and procedures that are designed

148 COPYRIGHT © 2015


Project Manager Spill Control Team

Legal, PR,
Administrative &

BTF Manager
Insurance, Contracts,
Accounting, Audit Trail

Drilling Engineering Blowout & Relief Well Drilling Operations

Manager Advisors(s) Manager

Logistics & Material Drilling Superintendent Drilling Superintendent

Support Safety Manager
(Intervention) (Relief Well)

Reservoir & Geology Drilling Supervisor Drilling Supervisors


Facilities & General Drilling Engineers

Drilling Engineer

Relief Well Specialist

Capping Specialists

Directional, Ranging &

Other Specialists Other Specialists

Figure 6.1 — Generalized organizational scheme for a subsea BTF.

to provide guidance to company employees, contractors, and and others. This helps to ensure that the BCP comprehensively
other person(s) in the event of a well control emergency. addresses each of the well control emergency elements
systematically and completely. Documentation structure ICS: US-based plans
The structure of the BCP is generally aligned with integrated
elements of major international standards such as national The NIMS of the Federal Emergency Management Agency
incident management system (NIMS), American Petroleum (FEMA) is a systematic approach for preventing and reacting
Institute (API), International Organization for Standardization to emergency situations. Within the plan, the ICS (Incident
(ISO), occupational health and safety advisory services (OHSAS), Command System) is a standard method for organizing and

COPYRIGHT © 2015 149


naming the job positions that would be required in the event during the course of the incident, as well as post-incident
of an incident. This provides a well-developed organizational evaluation, leading to system and process enhancement.
structure, which is crucial to an effective emergency response. Resource management
This BCP may use an ICS that has been developed specifically
for responding to well control emergencies. The organizational Resource management, equipment and personnel, is vital
structure for the management of well control emergencies is during the entire well control incident. The BCP should provide
called the emergency response organization and is comprised up to date equipment and support personnel listings. Access
of the Blowout Response Team and the On-Site Response to these resources will help maximize the effectiveness of the
Team (ORT), all reporting to the Incident Commander. emergency response.

Figure 6.2 shows a typical ICS organization chart. Ongoing management and maintenance ICS: Non-US plans Ongoing management and maintenance of the BCP is critical
to its utility as an effective tool to help mitigate well control
The ICS is a standard method for organizing and naming the incidents. It must be kept current to the project’s needs. A
job positions that would be required in the event of an incident. process should be in place to ensure that any changes to the
This provides a well-developed organizational structure, which BCP, due to a change of contact data, well or site information, or
is crucial to an effective emergency response (Figure 6.2). other items, as well as any adjustments that may be generated
from a periodic or annual review, are reflected in an accurate
This BCP uses an ICS that has been developed specifically for and timely fashion.
responding to well control emergencies. The organizational
structure for the management of well control emergencies is The person in charge for each work site shall review the
called the Emergency Response Organization, and is comprised content of the BCP and determine which of the required plans,
of the BTF and the ORT, all reporting to the single head of programs, and procedures listed in the plan are applicable to
response. their operation. Command and management A review is typically conducted at least once each year or when
the BCP is updated, whichever is more frequent. This periodic
The BCP provides effective and efficient incident management BCP review will help ensure that the plan is kept current to
and coordination. This is accomplished by providing a ongoing project and operational conditions as well as to
standardized response structure that coordinates on-site and incorporate any additional lessons learned on this or other
off-site management structures along with vital well control projects that could enhance the effectiveness or utility of the
expertise provided by contractors. BCP. Preparedness
The BCP should provide the framework to help manage well
control incidents. Every emergency is different, but being SOURCE CONTROL
prepared with a comprehensive and systematic approach, and
working in conjunction with appropriate well control expertise, The information contained below is a summary intended to
provides the best opportunity for an optimum and favorable provide guidance in the instance of an uncontrolled subsea
outcome. well blowout. The operator should develop a well containment
plan referenced for response resources and approach.
Examples of key information for individual wells are described
in Table 6.4. A layered approach should be used to respond to a subsea
well control incident that addresses simultaneous response Communications and information management operations at the well site, in the offshore environment, and in
near shore and shoreline areas. Plans should be implemented,
The roles and responsibilities for key well control response resources deployed, and response operations established
personnel should be clearly defined. Specific and accurate within these environmental areas to accomplish the following
contact information should be consolidated and made general objectives:
accessible to well control personnel and other stakeholders.
Information management includes the collection and • Ensure the safety of responders and the general public;
formatting of information prior to, during and after the incident. • Intervene at the well site to stop the flow of oil;
This is done to capture and preserve information that develops • Minimize the spread of oil at the surface;

150 COPYRIGHT © 2015



Support Staff
Operations Section Public Information Officer
Govt Affairs/Liason
Planning Section
Chief Human Resources
Regulatory Compliance
Logistics Section Insurance and Risk

Well Control

Documentation Deputy Incident

Leader Commander

On-Site Commander

Offshore Installation
Well Control Team

Support Contractors

Figure 6.2 — Common ICS organization chart.

COPYRIGHT © 2015 151


Table 6.4 — Well information useful for evaluating and implementing possible control situations.

Information Type Details

Rig and/or structure drawings Assure drawings are most recent “as-built”

Detailed drawings of wellhead, Include the critical remotely operated underwater vehicle (ROV) interface panel and hot
blowout preventer (BOP) system stab connectors

Depth reference system & units Example: RKB, mudline, sea level and meters or feet

Azimuth reference system Example data: UTM, true north, local grid, grid convergence

Surveys on relevant well(s) If available include: • BHA used;

• Well name/number; • Borehole temperature;
• Date of survey; • Tool face data;
• Surface tie-in coordinates; • QA/QC information on the survey data
• Survey interval; (e.g., service company uncertainty model,
• Survey type; calibration data, running procedures,
• Survey company; surveyor’s notes overlapped surveys, etc.).
• Surveyor’s name;
• Grid conversion;
• Magnetic declination conversion;
• Running gear configuration;
• Magnetic spacing;

Surface map showing rig/ • Debris; • Adjacent structures;

structure site relative to: • Pipelines; • Other subsea hazards within one mile
• Water depths; of the anchor pattern of the relief well
• Seabed characteristics; rig located one mile from the well.
• Other seabed hazards;
• Shipping lanes;
• Potential relief well surface locations;

Surface map (plan view) of the

• Average prevailing winds;
rig/structure showing:
• Waves and sea currents

Surface map showing: • Latest seismic coverage to include any subsurface hazards (e.g., shallow gas,
palaeochannels, faults, etc.)

Wellbore schematic showing (as • Casing design – length and size; • Valves;
• Cement tops; • Nipples;
• Packers; • Plugs;
• Perforations; • Casing shoe LOT/FIT.
• Drilling mud weight.

Geological stratigraphic cross-

• Pore pressure; • Overburden and temperature profile
section showing:
• Fracture gradients; (note any potential drilling hazards).

Reservoir and reservoir fluid • Permeability; • GOR;

properties • Productivity index; • Reservoir extent;
• Static reservoir pressure & • Molecular composition of reservoir
temperature; fluids.

152 COPYRIGHT © 2015


• Protect coastal and natural resources; • Ensuring no seafloor breaching from the well design or
• Prevent shoreline impact. control strategies;
• Permanently securing the well thereby securing the
During a subsea well containment response many resources source.
will be simultaneously deployed. The BTF will determine what
needs to be actioned. These simultaneous activities may The operator should have the organizational capability,
include site survey, debris removal, well capping, collection of through company personnel, contractors, and consultants,
hydrocarbons and relief well drilling. or through mutual aid agreements, to effectively and safely
implement the well containment plan. This includes developing
an organizational structure to manage the many facets of a
6.3.1 Well intervention strategy subsea well control incident.

Separate and distinct resources should be made available

for each part of the well containment plan or scheduled 6.3.2 Typical subsea well containment
to accommodate each part of the response. Subsea well response
intervention strategies should support the overall response
strategies. Specific well intervention strategies should address Figure 6.3 depicts the workflow of typical subsea well response
the following: operations. These steps may all or in part be present in a
response depending on the incident-specific subsea well
• Safety of source control response personnel; blowout situation.
• Stopping the well flow at the sea floor as fast and safely
as possible; The first activity in the workflow is a site survey (Table 6.5),
which is typically conducted jointly by spill management

Typical Deep Water Well Emergency Response Activity

Mobilization Capped Contained Killed


Attempts to Close

ROV Support / Site

Survey / Hi Res photos

Subsea & Surface dispersant / booming/ As required


Debris clearance

Capping system Capping system

readied deployed

Well Intervention tools Well Intervention

readied (as req’ed) tools deployed

Containment System (as required)

Relief Well(s)

Vessel Decontamination

Figure 6.3 — Typical deepwater well emergency response.

COPYRIGHT © 2015 153


Once the site has been made safe for work and there is access to
Table 6.5 — Site survey.
the source, deployment of capping and/or capture & collection
Key activities devices can begin. The well must be evaluated to determine
• Test surface air quality; if it can be capped and shut in or if the capping device must
• Install acoustic positioning system; be integrated with flow lines to transfer hydrocarbons to the
• Deploy ROVs to inspect well site; surface prior to shutting in the well (a “cap and flow” scenario).
• Determine wellhead & BOP damage, If deployment of the capping device or the decision to shut
subsea structure integrity, wellhead in the well is delayed, capture and collection devices can be
inclination; deployed to collect hydrocarbons from one or more release
• Determine source(s) of hydrocarbon points. These capture and collection devices will require
release geometry and plume modeling surface processing and storage facilities.
of release point(s);
• Provide continuous ROV video Throughout the workflow, simultaneous operations (SIMOPS)
and data feed to support facilities must be managed within the designated exclusion zone
(intervention vessels, command posts, (surface and subsurface) for source control operations and
etc.); integrated with the SIMOPS planning for the other areas of
• Conduct air monitoring at surface; operation in the response, such as mechanical recovery on the
• Map debris field. surface and air operations. Source control SIMOPS planning
involves the movement of support vessels (e.g. equipment
Required • ROVs with support vessel and deployment vessels, supply vessels, capture vessels, shuttle
resources operator(s); tankers) on the surface as well as equipment installation and
• Satellite links, data feeds to facilities; operation subsurface.
• Vessel(s) equipped with air monitoring
equipment. Concurrent with the subsea well capping operations will be the
planning and initiation of drilling a relief well.

(surface) and source control (subsurface) response personnel

within the Incident Management Team in order to produce 6.3.3 Immediate actions
a comprehensive assessment of the incident severity and
damage. The site survey and assessment will inform the need Immediate efforts to close the BOP using on site resources
for initial source control response resources and prompt the will likely be performed using an ROV to operate built-in hot
subsequent steps in the workflow by indicating the existence stab ports. The following factors should be considered when
of debris, potential release source(s), status of surface and planning such an operation:
subsea infrastructure, and general magnitude of the release.
An assessment of the BOP or wellhead is also included to • A work class ROV (100+ HP) is generally preferable;
determine the damage to these items as well as accessing • It may be necessary to remove debris to gain access to
functionality for closing devices (valves, rams), which may the stack;
restrict or stop the flow of hydrocarbons until the well is killed. • Some fabrication capability may be required to equip the
ROV with any job specific tools required to perform debris
If a release is identified, the well capping service provider(s) removal;.
contracted by the operator should be engaged to initiate • Ensure that the ROV is equipped with a style of hot stab
mobilization of subsea containment equipment. If debris is that is compatible with the BOPs;.
detected in the site survey, debris removal becomes the critical • Ensure that the ROV is capable of providing a sufficient
path activity to ensure access to the source(s) for intervention. volume of hydraulic fluid at the rate required to operate
the BOP;
If the site survey indicates hydrocarbons in the water column • Obtain an updated drawing of the stab panel;
and/or volatile organic compounds (VOCs) are detected near • ROVs should each have sufficient tether to allow safe
or at the site, application of subsea dispersant should be operation from nearby vessels;
evaluated and the process for deploying the subsea dispersant • Visibility will be affected by a subsea release of wellbore
initiated. Initial assessment should include subsea plume fluids, thus ingress and egress of ROVs must be planned
modeling of the release and estimated time and location of accordingly;
hydrocarbons reaching the surface. If VOCs are detected in • ROV vessels must consider their position with respect to
or around the worksite for subsea intervention activities, the wind direction and current if effluent is present;
application of dispersant will most likely be necessary to ensure • High resolution video capability is highly recommended;
a safe working environment and is therefore an additional
critical path activity.

154 COPYRIGHT © 2015


Table 6.6 — Debris removal. Table 6.7 — Subsea dispersant application.

Key The activity could include: Key activities

activities • Develop dispersant application (rate
• Install rigging on riser, cut riser sections and location(s)) plan and monitoring
and recover; plan;
• Install rigging on LMRP/BOP, unlatch • Apply for approval to use subsea
connectors and recover; dispersant through appropriate
• Cut/remove choke and kill lines; regulatory authorities and Incident
• Clear all other debris that could impede Commander;
well control operations; • Mobilize dispersant injection system
• Provide a clear chain of custody for any and dispersant supply;
debris recovered; • Install dispersant injection system
• Identify and maintain a “wet store” area. offshore;
• Develop resupply plan for dispersant;
Required • Multi-service type vessels with Dynamic • Conduct monitoring and reporting per
resources Positioning Class Two capabilities and approved plan.
available deck space with properly rated
heave compensated cranes; Required • Subsea dispersant chemical;
• Rough cut equipment; • Pump capable of 4-10 gpm;
• Smooth cut equipment; • Dispersant injection system with hose/
• Rigging; umbilicals;
• Riser clamps; • Coil tubing unit and other flexible
• Additional ROVs, support vessels, and tubing;
crew; • ROV vessels & crews;
• Subsea hydraulic power unit (HPU) • Equipment deployment vessel;
appropriate for water depth. • Dispersant re-supply vessel;
• Monitoring equipment & crew.

• It is recommended that all vessels involved in the

operation should be equipped to monitor video signals Table 6.7 provides some key activities and resources for subsea
from all ROVs involved in the response. dispersant application.

6.3.4 Debris removal 6.3.6 Well capping

Debris removal is conducted as needed to make the site safe The operator’s well containment plan should address capping
for work and allow access to the source so that well intervention operations and associated procedures, including related
and capping operations can be conducted. Debris removal is a equipment mobilization, installation, and well shut-in.
dynamic aspect of the well control activity due to the inability
to accurately predict the size and scope of the operation. Subsurface and well integrity data will dictate whether the well
should be shut in or allowed to flow to a containment system.
Table 6.6 describes some key activities and resources for
debris removal. Once the condition of the wellhead and subsea equipment
is known, plans for capping can commence. Equipment to
be sourced includes a suitable capping stack, any adapters
6.3.5 Subsea dispersant application required, deployment tooling, rigging, vessels or drilling rigs,
and control equipment.
Subsea dispersant is used to enable a safe working
environment by accelerating the breakdown of hydrocarbons Table 6.8 describes some key activities for well capping.
below the surface and minimizing volatile organic compounds
(VOCs) on the surface. Subsea dispersant can be injected into Both vertical and offset capping stack deployment techniques
the flow of hydrocarbons at the release point. Application rates will require vessels capable of loading, transporting, off-
and methods will vary based on conditions and regulatory loading, suspending, and re-loading the capping stack. Each of
approvals. these steps should be rigorously planned to ensure that the
equipment available is capable of safely performing the work.

COPYRIGHT © 2015 155


Table 6.8 — Well capping equipment.

Key activities
• Pre-mobilization testing and
preparation of the capping stack;
• Mobilization and deployment of
capping stack and support equipment
(e.g. hydraulic accumulator for subsea
• Development and execution of plan
for wellhead straightening if needed;
• Install capping stack and hydraulic
• Hydrate remediation may be required;
• Confirmation of the well structural
integrity to contain pressure and
determine forward option: shut-in, top
kill, or transition to cap & flow;
• Secure the well with a BOP (in lieu of
capping stack);
• Shut-in well;
• After cap installed, consider kill
Figure 6.4 — Potential capping stack attachment points.
Required • Capping stack rated for the water
depth and well pressure with the Capping plans must include procedures for landing on the
appropriate connector; incident well with considerations for potential limited visibility.
• Deployment vessel with sufficient lift These procedures should include numeric modeling of the
capacity for capping stack and support capping stack deployment and docking sequence, including
equipment (e.g. deep sea intervention dynamics as the stack enters the jet plume as well as wellbore
vessel, anchor handling vessel with pressure response during well shut-in as the chokes are being
sufficient A frame clearance); closed, adding back pressure to the wellbore. This well shut-
• ROVs (three minimum) with support in modeling is critical to gain insight to other potential well
vessel(s) and crew; damage conditions.
• Hydraulic power unit;
• Hydrate inhibition system and Identification of multiple capping connection points are
chemical supply (e.g. glycol, methanol); recommended for a specific well to ensure access to the correct
• Wellhead straightening equipment, if capping connectors or adapters. Figure 6.4 is a drawing of the
required; most common capping connection points. Each connection
• Top kill equipment (drill pipe, riser point should be evaluated for accessibility, connection type,
assembly, manifolds, high pressure and pressure limits.
flexible flow lines and others).

6.3.7 Well intervention tools

During capping operations, it will be necessary to control the
movements of the suspended stack such that no damage Depending on the situation and BOP condition, several
occurs to the vessels, stack, or wellhead. different tool string designs may be required for vertical
intervention operations. Several considerations need to be
Support vessels should be equipped with monitors to observe addressed while designing the tool string for easy access into
the stack visually from ROV feeds and to collect positional data the BOPs or wellhead assembly.
from beacons attached to several points on the capping stack.
Table 6.9 describes some key activities and resources for well
Capping plans must include pre-deployment testing plans, a intervention tools
detailed deployment/installation plan and a comprehensive
well shut-in procedure. Vertical intervention tools require designs for two fundamental

156 COPYRIGHT © 2015


Table 6.9 — Incident well intervention tools. Table 6.10 — Containment system.

Key activities Key activities

• Pre-mobilization testing and • Placing a collection device over the
preparation of the incident well source to capture the oil;
intervention tools and related incident • Connecting the flowline and riser to the
well downhole tools; well to direct flow to capture vessels;
• Assess incident wellhead intervention • Hydrate remediation;
reentry tool needs; • Transferring the captured oil to a
• Develop plans for tool reentry marine capture vessel or well test
methods and conveyance vessel;
mechanisms; • Processing the captured oil and gas for
• Test and mobilize each intervention incineration and/or disposal;
method tool kit. • May include transferring the processed
oil to a tank vessel or barge using a
Required • Mechanical packers; floating transfer hose;
• Inflatable packers; • Transporting oil to shore, as required;
• Stingers; • Receiving facilities on shore to store
• Knuckle joints; the oil.
• Collars or heavy-weight pipe;
• Float valves and/or ported subs; Required • Non-sealing collection devices e.g. top
• Circulating subs. hat, riser insertion tube tool (RITT), or
other non-sealing collection devices;
• Drill ship or construction vessel for
• Guidance reentry systems; equipment deployment and flow-back;
• Reentry tool strings. • Subsea riser assembly;
• Hydrate inhibition system and chemical
Guidance design criteria are as follows: supply;
• Topsides processing facility (oil/water
• Universal designs regardless of equipment types on the and oil/gas separation, flaring);
well; • Shuttle tankers or barges for lightering/
• Designs for specific equipment types; offloading, as required;
• Means to handle flow-related, decentralized forces. • Offloading transfer hoses and hawsers,
as required.

6.3.8 Capture and collection/containment

to operate simultaneously with other response and recovery
Capture and collection operations apply to subsea hydrocarbon operations.
collection in the interim of or simultaneous to the execution of
the capping solution. It also refers to the integration of flow
lines with the capping device to transfer hydrocarbons to 6.3.9 SIMOPS
the surface in the instance of a cap and flow scenario. In this
instance, an intervention riser system may be used to direct SIMOPS (Simultaneous Operations) is a formal written process.
the flow for processing and disposal. SIMOPS is defined as performing two or more operations
concurrently that might cause conflicts with one another in
Table 6.10 lists containment system mobilization and in- normal or emergency situations. SIMOPS should ensure safe
stallation considerations. and efficient operations between all air, marine, and subsea
assets deployed in support of the incident.
If either inspection of the subsea equipment or subsurface
criteria dictate that a containment system should be used, Table 6.11 describes key activities and resources for a
an appropriate system must be designed and transported to successful SIMOPS.
location. Planning for the use of a containment system should
be included in the operator’s contingency plan. All vessels In response to a Subsea well control event, governance of
supporting the transportation, deployment, and operation control of the immediate area around the site needs to be
of the containment system must be fit for purpose and able put in place very quickly. A SIMOPS plan should include, at
minimum, the following:

COPYRIGHT © 2015 157


Table 6.11 — SIMOPS. Table 6.12 — Decontamination and demobilization.

Key • Create and maintain SIMOPS Key activities • Gross decontamination of vessels prior
activities (Simultaneous Operations) plan detailing to entering a port;
organization and process flow; • Booming off a vessel at berth within the
• Identify the SIMOPS hierarchy and port;
priorities for the major scopes of work • Hazardous waste disposal;
for all response operations; • Final decontamination prior to
• Outline high-level SIMOPS decision- demobilization from the incident;
making steps; • Large vessels may require final
• Provide detailed SIMOPS process and decontamination at a shipyard;
procedures to follow by all responders; • Rigs, drill ships & large vessels may
• Conduct HAZID or HAZOPs on all require final decontamination offshore
SIMOPS activities; due to draft limitations.
• Provide a detailed communications
plan to ensure that all responders Required • Multiple small boats;
understand and abide by SIMOPS resources • Containment Boom;
requirements; • Pressure Washers;
• Establish a SIMOPS area/zone - • Absorbents;
minimum 500 meters, but up to 2 to 5 • Dive support, as required.
nautical miles;
• Coordinate and schedule all activities
within the SIMOPS area; information into account, options for locations of relief wells
• Transponder frequency assignments; need to be determined in advance.
• Arrange for the transport of all materials
to the site;
• Maintain constant communications 6.3.10 Decontamination and demobilization
with all activities inside the designated
SIMOPS area. Decontamination (decon) must be conducted as soon as
equipment has been demobilized to prevent cross contamination
Required • SIMOPS Operations Center; of relatively clean environments. Decontamination stations
resources • Communications package (e.g., AIS, should be established at the entry/exit of ports that support
transponder frequency assignments, the Source Control efforts of the response.
bandwidth requirements, etc.);
• Subsea/ROV video feed area for guiding Table 6.12 describes some key activities and resources of
and supporting subsea operation. decontamination and demobilization.


• Field communications protocol;
• Acoustic frequency management and position Plans for drilling a relief well to stop the flow of oil or to
referencing; permanently secure the well should be implemented at
• Dropped objects prevention; the beginning of an assumed worst case discharge and run
• Entry and egress protocol for vessels; simultaneously with all other well intervention operations.
• Entry and egress protocol for aviation; Relief well locations should be considered in the well
• Emergency evacuation paths; containment plan.
• Active area, staging area, and standby areas should be
clearly defined, typically in concentric circles around the
well site. 6.4.1 Relief well operations
Knowledge of the existing seafloor infrastructure (nearby wells, The time required for surface intervention techniques to stop
pipelines, fiber optic lines, umbilicals, manifolds) is critical a subsea release will likely be long enough that important time
information for layouts of the seabed support equipment. The savings may be realized by commencing relief well planning
seafloor layout affects the options the operator has regarding and operations immediately after a subsea well control event
installation of mud mats, concrete mats, and suction piles occurs. If surface intervention results fail, significant time will
for setting the subsea containment equipment. Taking this have been saved by early commencement of the relief well(s).

158 COPYRIGHT © 2015


Every deepwater operator should prepare a Relief Well survey, whereas, passive magnetic ranging can be performed
Contingency Plan both as a training exercise and as an using standard LWD or MWD tools.
operational guide for a well control emergency. Relief Well
Contingency Plans result from an iterative planning process In some cases, it is desirable to drill past the target well at a
during which the optimum solution is developed, and should relatively shallow depth to enable ranging tools to locate the
include, at a minimum, casing design, well trajectory, intercept target casing, after which the relief well may be plugged back
point, ranging plan, intercept method, and kill plan. and re-directed to the intercept point.

A Ranging Survey Plan should specify what types of ranging

6.4.2 Casing design will be performed and at what depths surveys will be made to
accommodate ranging. The quality of survey information on
It is frequently necessary to pump kill fluids down the annulus the incident well should be evaluated for positional uncertainty.
of the relief well to achieve a sufficient rate to kill the flow. For
that reason, annular hydraulic diameter should be carefully
considered. 6.4.5 Intercept point
As a general rule, relief wells should use casing setting depths A model simulating flow in the blowout well must be developed
similar to the incident wells, but should be designed for larger prior to simulating the kill. Kill simulations can then be
casing. Casing at least one conventional size larger than the performed using a variety of inputs for intercept point, relief
incident well should be used. Additionally, it is prudent to well geometry, kill fluid characteristics, and pump rates.
design the relief well such that a contingency liner is also Selection of the best intercept point is based on the results of
available if difficult, or charged, zones may be encountered. kill modeling.

6.4.3 Well trajectory 6.4.6 Intercept method

Development of a relief well trajectory is usually an iterative In cased holes, interception is most commonly achieved by
process, dependent mainly on relief well location, allowable perforating, but it may also be achieved by milling into the
dogleg severity, and intercept depth. target well casing. In either case, it may be necessary to drill
parallel and in close proximity to the target well for some
Numerous factors influence the location from which to drill distance prior to intercept.
the relief well, including sea floor features/facilities, prevailing
winds and currents, and anti-collision concerns. Perforated intercepts may require deep penetrating charges
fired from oriented guns. Guns with zero phasing or with
Intercept depth is generally dictated by kill requirements and special low-angle phasing have been used in the past.
the design of the target well.
Milled intercepts may require the use of a whipstock, or the
Relief well trajectory design must consider surface location, intercept may occur immediately below the last casing shoe of
including shallow hazards and intercept point. The method of the relief well.
hydraulic communication will likely determine the intercept
angle of incidence. Consideration should be given to the strength of the zone
in which the intercept occurs and the downhole pressures
expected to occur during the intercept and kill operations.
6.4.4 Ranging plan
In some cases, a dual-intercept method is used to allow
Active and/or passive magnetic ranging techniques may be circulation of fluids through a portion of the blowout well.
used to locate the target wellbore. Active ranging involves
inducing a current into the formation and measuring the
magnetic field to identify disturbance of the magnetic field, 6.4.7 Kill plan
which could indicate presence of the target casing. A passive
magnetic ranging technique uses the earth’s magnetic field Relief wells generally enable killing a blowout by pumping fluids
and a magnetometer to investigate for the source well casing. into the flow of the target well, in order to increase bottomhole
Passive ranging uses measurements of Measurement While pressure to stop the flow. Kill modeling must be performed to
Drilling (MWD) instruments to indicate possible presence of support the ability to dynamically kill the flow at the selected
the target casing. It is essentially reverse collision-avoidance. intercept point. At minimum, the kill plan should include:
Active ranging tools generally require a trip to perform a

COPYRIGHT © 2015 159


• Kill fluid injection path; The operator should retain a detailed DGPS survey report,
• Resulting pump pressures; including the raw digital DGPS survey data to allow post
• Resulting pressures at intercept; processing and calibration for relief well planning. There may
• Kill fluid characteristics; be no way to check the blowout position if this data is not
• Kill fluid pump rate schedule; saved.
• Required kill fluid volume.
The horizontal offset from the rotary to the mudline needs to
be reported. Dynamic position systems seldom have any offset
6.4.8 Rig positioning and surveying for on rig-up. Anchored systems in higher current areas in subsea
relief wells can have some offset due to anchoring position changes. This
offset must be known relative to the DGPS survey position.
Any relief well drilled to intercept a subsea blowout will be
impacted by possible surface and subsurface positional A common source of error is the reference system used for
uncertainty of the blowing subsea well. The subsurface north, as indicated below:
wellbore uncertainty concerns are not any different than that
of shallow water or land wells. • Some systems use "grid north" versus true north;
• MWD survey tools take measurements in magnetic north.
The greatest difference lies in positional errors of the relative
surface locations. The difference between magnetic north and true north varies
as a function of location of the survey to the magnetic pole. This
Accurate measures of the relative distance and, more difference is known as "magnetic declination." Unfortunately
importantly, the direction between the two wellbores are the magnetic pole is subject to drift at higher latitudes which
required. The principal surface method used in subsea is can impact survey accuracy.
based on differential global positioning satellite (DGPS) survey
methods applied above sea level, not by direct measurement. When a relief well is drilled, all blowout survey data is inspected
and accurate declinations are applied to the raw magnetic
survey data. Historical magnetic declinational data can be
6.4.9 GPS and DGPS systems obtained from the United States Geologic Survey. All surveys
are then corrected to "true north" using the best-known
Most floating drilling rigs have GPS and DGPS systems. These declination data.
systems depend on timing the arrival of signals broadcast
from 24 satellites placed in earth orbit by the United States
Department of Defense (DOD). There are plans to increase this 6.4.10 Survey considerations
It is common in relief wells to use rate gyros. These gyros are
A method of triangulation can be used in a computing built with accelerometers and a second gyro in a system that
receiver that contains data on the relative position of each measures true north from the torque sensed off the spin of
satellite. Handheld GPS devices are now common, and provide the Earth. Sunspots and magnetic hot spots do not impact
approximate accuracy of 10 meters. accuracy. Survey accuracy is at least an order of magnitude
better than MWD magnetics.
Differential GPS survey devices use a second or multiple GPS
receiver(s) located at a known reference station(s). The signal is It is recommended that subsea operators plan to run rate
obtained real time from the nearby offsite GPS receiver that is gyros below surface casing to assist in positioning a relief well.
used to calibrate the GPS survey receiver. This is typically done This would greatly assist and speed a relief well intervention
through digital radio transmission. program.

The distance of the reference station from the field survey A cumulative error that combines uncertainty in both the relief
station impacts accuracy. As drilling moves into deeper water well and blowout impacts well intersection. The sources of
and farther from nearby fixed platforms, the distance from the error are:
reference stations and the field stations increases positional
uncertainty. • Surface location error;
• Surface to mudline offsets;
The routine used to survey in the blowing well must be • Downhole survey error;
repeated for the relief well. The operator must work closely • Survey device error;
with the differential survey vendor to minimize error. • Reference: system correction error.

160 COPYRIGHT © 2015


A number of enhancements can be offered to the standard 6.4.12 Restrictions to flow

MWD survey operation in order to help reduce uncertainty for
the wellbore with the assistance of Survey Management. These One or more of the following mechanisms may restrict flow
enhancements improve survey accuracy by correcting for both from a wellbore:
axial and cross-axial error sources within the MWD tool and
externally to the tool. A restriction to flow can be within the formation itself. This
would happen in a zone that has relatively low permeability or
Electromagnetic ranging tools are used to overcome the a limited length of open formation to a wellbore. In this case,
cumulative uncertainty summarized above. If the error is great the initial flow from a blowout can be large but will typically
then an uphole reference or tie-in is needed to get the two decline rapidly with time as the formation immediately around
wellbores within the detection range of the device used. The the wellbore is drawn down.
need for establishing uphole well proximity is reduced if the
blowout well path is known accurately. The contrast to this situation is a zone of very high permeability
or a large amount of formation open to the wellbore, such
Electromagnetic ranging is a tool of orientated magnetometers that there is little or no drawdown. In this case flow from the
that triangulate the induced or static magnetic field present formation is limited by the wellbore and surface mechanics.
around steel tubulars located within the blowout wellbore. The
induced magnetic field devices use downhole current injection Other restrictions could be chokes, flow lines, small diameter
to make a stronger magnetic field around the blowout tubular leaks, or seawater hydrostatic in the event of a subsea
goods and thus have a better range capability. Targeting uncontrolled flow.
information is then given as distance and direction to the
blowout, referenced to the depth in the relief well. The wellbore will always offer some resistance to flow. In the case
of very long wellbores or wellbore flow paths with small cross
sectional areas, this resistance can be high and will typically be the
6.4.11 Dynamic kill considerations limiting factor in how much the well can produce. However, there
have been events in the past where very prolific reservoirs Blowout
As in land or offshore operations, the potential flow paths from through large casing strings and large openhole diameters. In
the well are numerous. In this section we will not attempt to be these cases, even though the wellbore is the restricting element,
exhaustive in our flow path descriptions, but only to cover the flow rates of thousands of barrels per day and hundreds of million
more likely flow situations. standard cubic feet per day have been seen.

One possible flow path is up an open hole wellbore. Variances

here would depend on the amount, if any, of open hole versus 6.4.13 Formation drawdown
the amount that is cased.
Often during a blowout, the flowing bottomhole pressures are
The second flow path would be if there were tubulars in the well considerably lower than the original reservoir pressure. As
and flow exits the formation through these tubulars. A large the well flow continues in time, this drawdown zone reaches
number of variables can be encountered such as parted drill farther out into the reservoir. This depletion will sometimes be
pipe, washed out tool joints, or the possibility of corkscrewed obvious because of a reduction in formation flow rate, while
pipe, which may offer significant restrictions to a flow. at other times, especially in the case of a well flow which is
mechanically restricted, this may not be apparent at all.
There are combinations which can occur where the flow
path is up an annulus cross section between a wellbore and Depending on the particulars of the well that is flowing, this
tubulars within the wellbore. Additional complications can flow can be advantageous to consider when designing pumping
up a multiple path for some limited distance and then into a flow rates, horsepower, and fluids for a relief well kill. The time
secondary path of different geometries. An example could be it takes to complete a relief well may result in a significantly
flow up a tubular section into an open hole or flow up both an reduced blowout flow and one that is much easier to
annulus and a tubular section and then into open hole. control. This saves rig-up space offshore, fluid volumes, and
mobilization complexity.
Most underground flows occur at the casing shoe of the last
string of pipe. If one examines formation fracture gradient
versus depth and superimposes a flowing well pressure 6.4.14 Relief well intercept point
gradient, the reason for this becomes clear as the greatest
pressure differential will normally be at the last casing shoe. One of the variables most easily controlled with today’s
technology is the intercept point of the flowing well by the
relief well.

COPYRIGHT © 2015 161


Table 6.13 — Relief well planning.

6.4.15 Formation leak off
Key When pumping into a relief well across into a flowing wellbore,
activities • Identify relief well(s) location based off of there will be restrictions on the maximum allowable pump rate.
the BCP; This maximum rate will be determined in part by the hydraulic
• Design the well with intercept points; conduit of the relief well. Examples here would be whether the
• Source rig(s) to drill the well(s); drill pipe in the relief well would be used for pumping purposes
• Kill the blowout; or whether the annulus would be used.
• Plug the blowout well & relief well(s).
In some cases it may be a requirement that both paths be
Special • Ranging equipment; employed for relief well pumping, but bottomhole pressure
• Kill fluid; measurement and subsequent analysis of the effects of the
• Stimulation vessels / hydraulic pumping pumping operation may be hampered if both strings are used.
services; Additional considerations include the type of fluid within the
• Well intercept tools. e.g.: mills, perforating relief wellbore at the time the intercept is made because if
guns; returns are lost, the fluid within the relief well would likely be
• Dynamic kill modelling / calculations. the first fluid into the flowing well.

A second limitation on pressure will be the fracture gradient of

As discussed previously, in some cases this intercept need not the formation at the point of intercept. If this is exceeded, then
be made at the total depth of the flowing well but rather at formation leak off could become excessive with a reduced
some intermediate position. Other factors, which may enter amount of liquid pumped in actually going into the flowing
into this decision, is the nature of the wellbore in the flowing well. In all pumping operations where a formation is exposed,
well. If it is a well that is being drilled, then there will likely be there will be some leak off. This leak off must be contained to
only an open hole with perhaps some tubulars, such as the manageable amounts for a relief well kill to be successful.
bottomhole assembly from a drillstring. However, in the event
of a blowout starting with no tubulars in the well, the flowing The ultimate end of a relief well pumping job will be to place
well consists only of an open hole. a fluid with sufficient density into the flowing well to stop all
flow within the well and contain formation pore pressure.
A substantial percentage of blowouts occur in producing wells This may include cement, resin, or other materials for
and these may have a variety of completion assemblies in permanent plugging. If there is some separation between
them. Careful consideration must be given as to where these wellbores, then this may become more complicated in that
are intersected as some of the completion concepts such as sufficient permeability must be present or generated within
gravel packs are specifically designed not to allow formation the formation to allow fluid with solid particles to be pumped
fines to enter the wellbore, and will restrict or completely across. As any open hole section is likely to have been exposed
eliminate the introduction of particle weighted material from a to a flowing bottomhole pressure that may be less than pore
relief well into a flowing production wellbore. pressure, formation recharge should be considered when
selecting the plugging material and pumping procedure. Zones
The offsetting advantage of a producing well is that there will which were not the main contributor to the blowout flow could
be a large magnetic mass with which to range on for a casing- still cause problems with a plugging job if formation recharge
to-casing intercept at the desired point. Also, there will be a resulted in enough flow to cause channeling in the plugging
reduced number of unknowns when drilling a relief well into a material.
production well as there will not be the amount of open hole
which could either cause loss of returns prematurely or the In some cases, it will be an advantage to pump a light liquid
encountering of a charged zone which can create well control such as water to generate increased flow path capabilities and
problems within the relief well itself. to then follow the water with a drilling mud. Cement or other
plugging material would then follow drilling mud. The water
In production wells, the location of packers, perforations, ends pump rate does not have to be of an amount to actually kill
of production tubing, or other wellbore restrictions that could the flowing well as long as the path is generated for a later
play an important hydraulic role should be considered. When introduction of a liquid that will kill the flowing well. This would
injecting kill fluids in a relief well, it is desirable to have the require smaller pumping plants on the surface as the rates and
most vertical height and to have the most favorable frictional consequent pressure would be lower with the end result being
flow geometry. Thus, if there is any restriction which can cause less horsepower required.
increased frictional pressure drops within the flowing wellbore,
these should be used if possible as they will only help to make
a kill easier.

162 COPYRIGHT © 2015


6.5 OTHER FACTORS adverse conditions. Surface wind and wave actions can also
affect the station-keeping ability of the vessel.
INFLUENCING Visibility problems can also be associated with current
INTERVENTION conditions due to well effluent hindering ROV and intervention


Problems existing in deepwater subsea operations may not 6.5.3 Weather considerations
have the same impact in shallower water depths. Likewise,
many substantial problem areas in shallower water blowout Weather forecasts are crucial in the planning stages of floating
control have minimum impact on deepwater events. vessel blowout control. Operations hinge on good weather
windows for safe working operations.
Problems associated with intervention techniques stem from
several areas: It is recommended that a reliable weather forecast service be
utilized for continuous monitoring.
• Water depth;
• Surface/subsurface currents;
• Weather considerations; 6.5.4 Vessel positioning
• Vessel positioning;
• Equipment and compatibility; Two basic methods exist for positioning a floating vessel:
• Blowout effluent(s);
• Surface fire; • Moored;
• Blowout rate; • Dynamic positioning (DP).
• ROV capability.
Chain or a chain/cable combination currently moors a majority
of the floating drilling rigs operating in water depths up to
6.5.1 Water depth 6,500 ft. Deepwater vessels are dynamically positioned (DP).

Water depth plays a role in shallow water well control The basic objective for position-keeping of a free-floating vessel
operations. This is due to hydrocarbons, particularly gas, is to maintain the drill pipe and riser in a near-vertical position
reaching surface in the form of a boil. In a deepwater subsea over the hole.
well control situation with release of hydrocarbons from the
well at the sea floor, it is expected that the surface release The environmental forces generally associated with this task
would be some distance from the rig due to dispersion and are wind, ocean currents, and wave action.
currents. Increased water depths combined with currents
make intervention tool selection more complex and may The most significant environmental force is wind. Wind varies
require stabilization when entering a blowing well. with speed and direction on a continual basis. The data gathered
from the monitoring system is input in the DP computer. These
Increased water depth impacts blowouts in several areas calculations utilize the shape of the vessel and the wind drag
including the following: characteristics of the rig. Total forces exerted by the wind are
calculated and the required power distribution is sent to the
• Seawater hydrostatic creates backpressure on the well thrusters for station-keeping.
that affects flow rates;
• Seawater may act as an H2S scrubber; Well control operations may be suspended if vessel positioning
• May disperse wellbore effluent away from well control is altered. High wind and surface currents demand stringent
operations; station-keeping capability.
• Safer working environment for personnel associated with
surface operations. Acoustic-based DP systems do not function in gas-aerated
water. If a DP vessel is utilized where a gas boil is present at
surface, thruster efficiency is also reduced due to the aeration
6.5.2 Surface/subsurface currents of the water. Some vessels have shallow suction headers
for main engine salt water-cooling systems that may also be
Surface currents vary from area to area. Mooring and riser affected.
problems have been documented over the years due to these

COPYRIGHT © 2015 163


6.5.5 Equipment availability and equipment 6.5.9 Other considerations for subsea
compatibility containment
The first step after any blowout is a site evaluation. Once the Many activities involved in the response to a deepwater well
initial site evaluation and rig inspection (if applicable) has control event have been described in the previous section of this
been conducted, identification of useable equipment and chapter. It is by no means inclusive of all possible conditions.
compatibility needs to be addressed. If the BOPs or riser were Each scenario requires its own unique set of plans. However,
lost, mobilize the replacement equipment as identified in the much of the basic Response resources can be identified in
Blowout Contingency Plan (BCP). advance. Sourcing these resources, support vessels, and
drilling rigs can prove problematic especially in more remote
Equipment compatibility and availability issues should be areas of the world. Ideally these resources should be identified
included in the BCP. and secured in advance, often through mutual aid agreements
with nearby operators.

6.5.6 Blowout effluent If the incident wellhead is no longer vertical, intervention

activities will likely be more complicated with the level of
Flow product types affect the situation. The environmental difficulty increasing with the amount of deviation of the
impact of a gas blowout may differ compared to oil or incident wellhead. Consideration for straightening and holding
condensate. Pollution parameters are discussed in detail in the back a deviated wellhead may be required, as could elaborate
Section 6.7, Spill Control. rigging system to address the offset angle.

Subsea visibility may be a factor for wellhead intervention. As a Use of vessel deployed coil tubing for well intervention might
result, kill techniques should be developed that require little or be considered. Seafloor containment devices may also be
no visibility at the mudline. required to help minimize spill volumes by directing flow
into receiving vessels. An unmanned seafloor dispersant
Sour or corrosive fluids should be considered and evaluated storage and dispersant injection system may also need to be
on a case-by-case basis. Techniques have been developed that considered for hurricane or adverse weather conditions to
allow for working in high sour gas concentrations. minimize spill damage.

The primary focus is to safely stop the flow from the well.
6.5.7 Surface fires However, considerations should be reviewed to top kill the well,
such as introducing heavy kill weight fluids, as long as it does not
Fire at the waterline adversely affects positioning a floating make the situation worse or unreasonably restrict or possibly
vessel over the blowout. Fire suppression systems may be used eliminate other response options. Common considerations
to minimize the heat under the rig or in the moon pool area. include bullheading through the BOP or riser choke and kill
However, a fire suppression or water-cooling system should lines, or possibly through the capping stack. Considering the
not be relied on for long-term use. Extinguishing the fire may time to drill a relief well, a dynamic kill conducted through the
be impossible. relief well should be the last option if no other options are
feasible or reasonable in stopping the flow.

6.5.8 Blowout rate

6.5.10 Sources of flow
The blowout flow rate can create problems with wellhead
intervention at the point of entry. Stabbing kill assemblies It is highly probable that any subsea blowout will be flowing
through flow can create additional challenges. from either a production wellhead or a BOP.

Computer modeling will aid with estimations on where possible Formation fluids may be exiting in a well-defined path such
gas boils may break at surface due to subsurface currents and as a circular cross-section. In the event of well-defined flow,
surface wind conditions. The results of this modeling will aid ROV cameras can provide pictures that can be compared to
in the determination of any site selection for a relief well or known dimensions on the BOP stack to get a better idea of
vertical intervention rig. cross-sectional flow area.

Subsea wells may commonly be capable of substantial

production rates. Production capacity of this magnitude for a
land well blowout would often result in collapse and bridging of
the well. However, in a subsea blowout scenario the hydrostatic

164 COPYRIGHT © 2015


pressure of the seawater column at the wellhead may well ROVs are tethered submersible vehicles that are used to
have the same effect as using a choke to limit production rate support the subsea offshore operators and perform simple
and prevent the collapse of the well. tasks like inspections, valve operations, complex tasks such as
friction welding, drilling into wellheads, and replacing subsea
The result of seawater backpressure could be a sustained flow chokes and control pods. ROVs are also capable of carrying
for which the only control method would be a relief well. One mission specific tooling packages for very complex subsea
positive in this situation would the assistance in killing the flow operations.
that the backpressure would provide.
Work class ROV systems are large ROVs that are equipped with
In exploratory drilling there may be limited reservoir two manipulators, a 5-function and 7-function (very dexterous)
information to assist in determining what well flow capability manipulator. The ROV has a multiplexing controls system that
might be, so the visual inspection via ROV of the flow itself may allow for additional sensors and tools to be operated by the
yield the best source of information. ROV and not via a separate umbilical. The ROV is designed to
operate in water depths and capable of continuous periods
If the wellhead is obscured it may not be possible to get a visual of subsea operational time without loss of performance
inspection of plume development. capability.

Reservoir engineering calculations, nodal analysis, and in-flow This ROV system should be capable of supporting all drilling
performance response calculations aid in predicting oil and activities, including well completion activities, and emergency
gas flow rates during well control situations. There are several interventions and operations. The ROV is designed for use in
software applications currently available whose track record is all regions regardless of the service conditions defined in the
considered excellent. regional Meteorological Design Data including field location,
water depths, and environmental conditions.
In the event of a seafloor broach such that formation fluid is
exiting some distance from the wellhead, it will probably be
difficult or impossible to gauge flow, as this will be obscured 6.6.2 ROV specifications
from mud and bottom sediment that are stirred up by the flow.
The ROV specification listed below is generic in nature and
However, this event may allow re-entry of the wellhead area should be considered as the basic requirement to support
itself so that investigation can take place from inside the flowing drilling operations. It is also dependent on the generation of the
wellbore to determine the amount and source of damage. rig and type of BOP system. For example, a 3rd generation rig
may not require the size or horsepower that a 6th generation


rig requires. Some specification will provide a minimum /
maximum rating or range for the item.

The ROV system’s major components are:

6.6.1 Introduction
• ROV;
Over the last 30 years significant technological developments • Tether management system (TMS);
within the ROV industry has increased today’s ROVs • Launch and recovery system (LARS);
performance from simple observation to completing numerous • Control van and maintenance van;
tasks in many fields. Their tasks range from simple inspection • Electrical power;
of subsea structures, pipeline, and platforms to connecting • Rig power;
pipelines and placing underwater manifolds. Today ROVs are • Motor generator;
used extensively to support subsea drilling activities in deep • Diesel generator;
and ultra-deep waters, landing BOP on the wellhead, replacing • Winch.
AX gaskets, turning and manipulating valves on subsea trees,
and operating the BOP secondary control system in and ROV
emergency. ROV also support initial construction of a sub-sea
development and the subsequent repair and maintenance for Average vehicle dimensions
all subsea projects.
• Length: 12 ft;
The purpose is to define a generic work class ROV specification • Width: 7 ft;
that meets the demanding performance of the Subsea • Height: 7 ft.
Offshore Industry. This ROV specification defines the minimum
requirements to support well control activities.

COPYRIGHT © 2015 165


Note: The dimensions listed above are a combination of the 6.6.3 ROV Sensors
largest work class ROVs.
ROV sensors provide data feedback to the ROV pilot for vehicle
Horsepower operations and to allow the ROV to perform tasks. The ROV
should have the following minimum sensors.
• Work Class ROV 75 - 125 hp;
• Heavy Duty Work Class ROV 150 - 250 hp. • Depth sensor;
• Compass (gyro preferred);
Note:The ROV horsepower is for the ROV only. It does not • Sonar;
include the horsepower on the Tether Management System. • Lights;
• Cameras - minimum four;
Speed • Color zoom (high definition preferred);
• B/W camera;
• Forward / Aft 2.0+ kts; • Mini-Color;
• Lateral: 1.0+ kts; • Low-light level camera;
• Vertical: 1.0+ kts; • Emergency Beacon and Xenon Flasher.
• Payload: 200 lb minimum.
ROV OEM manufacturer offer a multitude of optional sensors
Note: The weight added to an as-delivered ROV vehicle that provide additional features such as:
complete with manipulators, cameras, and ballast without
adding additional buoyancy for lift. • Auto heading;
• Auto depth;
• Through frame lift capacity: 5,000 lb minimum. • Auto altitude;
• Station keeping;
Note: Weight than can be added to the ROV frame. Generally • Auto Track;
this is a tooling skid that can be attached to the bottom of the • ROV “fly-by-wire”;
ROV frame. • Doppler velocity log;
• Dynamic motion unit. Tooling and/or survey skid

Space should be available on the bottom of the ROV to mount 6.6.4 ROV tooling
a BOP intervention skid or tooling skid. Mounting the skid to
the ROV is typically accomplished with integrated mechanical Over the years, the ROV tooling industry has become quite
quick-connect docking points. mature. Simply stated; any tool that is hydraulically operated
on the surface can be designed to operate subsea. Hydraulic power unit
The following tools listed below represents only a sample of
Provides hydraulic power to operate the ROV and ROV tools ROV tools that can be operated by the ROV specified in this
• Operates on environmentally friendly fluids;
• Provides dedicated tooling circuits with pressure and • Class 1 - 4 ROV torque tool (2,000 ft-lbs maximum);
flow control; • Class 5 -7 ROV torque tool (25,000 ft-lbs maximum);
• Reservoir and temperature shut down alarms. • Linear actuator override tool;
• Manipulators - 5-function rate manipulator or grabber • Cutters;
‘arm’ • Soft-line cutters up to 5.3 in.;
• Wire rope cutters up to 7.4 in.; 7-function rate manipulator • Cable cutters up to 13.9 in.;
• Flying Lead Orientation Tool;
Note: 7-function spatially correspondent manipulators with an • AX / VX ring gasket installation and removal tool;
integral color camera are preferred. • Suction anchor installation pump;
• Hot stabs assemblies;
• Auxiliary HPU.

BOP Intervention Skid: ROV pump skid that can operate the
BOP secondary control system and can meet API Standard 53’s
45-sec Blind Shear Ram closing times.

166 COPYRIGHT © 2015


A wide variety of ROV tools are available from simple task Overboarding systems on offshore support vessels:
of cleaning the wellhead gasket prep to operating complex
mission driven subsea equipment. • Telescoping A-Frames;
• Static A-Frame;
• ROV umbilical sheave.
6.6.5 Tether management systems
The TMS system contains the main umbilical mechanical
interface to the ROV; it protects the ROV as it passes through
the air - water interface, and provides for ROV tether storage Subsea oil exploration and production present many
and deployment. There are two types of TMS: challenges, one of which is preparedness to respond to a spill
from a subsea blowout should the preventive measures fail to
• The top-hat system suspends the ROV from beneath the control the produced well fluids.
• The cage-type TMS houses the ROV similar to a car When oil from a subsurface oil spill reaches the surface, its
housed inside a garage. movement is governed by a combination of wind and surface
currents. This is the same whether the oil comes from a shallow
The TMS also houses: well or a subsea well.

• Sensors;
• Camera (one minimum); 6.7.1 Plume dispersion
• HPU;
• ROV tether. The DEA 63 study combines the results of theoretical work
with data on actual field experiences and observations in an
attempt to get a clearer picture on what might happen as oil
6.6.6 System containers from a subsea well blowout rises to the surface. Key points
from the study are discussed below. ROV control van
Any subsurface release of a gas and/or oil release undergoes
The ROV pilot console contains: physical, chemical, and biological reactions that affect the oil
as it rises as well as when it is on the surface of the seawater.
• ROV pilot chair;
• Video displays and video recording capabilities; A shallow water release of oil and gas is generally released
• Telemetry control system. under high pressure and high velocity, resulting in the gas, oil,
and water mixing, and the mixture being carried quickly to the
surface as the gas expands under ever decreasing hydrostatic
6.6.7 ROV maintenance van pressure. This is contrasted by a subsea release where the oil
and gas is under high hydrostatic pressure and low ambient
The ROV maintenance van contains the ROV tools and temperature. There is speculation that the oil and gas could
spare parts necessary to conduct all normal and emergency combine with the water to form almost neutrally buoyant
operations. hydrates, thereby negating the effect of an expanding, rising
gas as experienced in a shallow water release.

6.6.8 Launch and recovery system If the driving buoyancy of the expanding gas is eliminated
and the oil droplets become neutrally buoyant, the following
The LARS contains the following components: questions arise:

ROV Winch complete with sufficient armored ROV umbilical • Does the oil rise to the surface under gravity forces alone?
for the operating water depth. Winch contains the following • Is the oil captured in the many subsurface cross currents
components: and transported miles from the blowout before surfacing?
• Does the oil reach neutral buoyancy in one of the
• Winch HPU; stratified layers in the oceans and never surface?
• Right angle level wind (optional);
• Rotating and stationary junction boxes; All plume models currently in use assume that the plume will
• Fiber optic slip rigs. rise through a uniform water column. In reality, the waters

COPYRIGHT © 2015 167


where subsea exploration is taking place are often heavily Subsurface dispersion
stratified with varying salinity, temperature, and current layers.
Natural subsurface dispersion in a subsea well blowout is
Some research suggests that cross currents will have minimum also expected to be more significant due to the reaction of
effects on the behavior of a rising plume while other research the rising plume with the shearing effects of multi-layered
suggests that stratified layers of warm and cold sea water of subsurface currents. The naturally dispersed oil may remain
varying salinity concentrations could result in shearing of the trapped below the surface in these various stratified layers of
rising plume, separating small droplets of oil from the plume water. If so, it may biodegrade or combine with sedimentation
that rise at a slower rate than the main body of the plume. in the seawater and slowly settle where biodegradation may
also take place.
The amount of oil and gas that dissolves into the water
column depends on the rate of emulsion formation or lack of Sedimentation
emulsion formation, the bubble surface area, and physical/
chemical composition of both the bubble and its surrounding During sedimentation, the hydrocarbon molecule attaches
environment. It is uncertain whether the gas and oil would itself to a sediment particle in the seawater and the subsequent
separate as they rise to the surface. The gas may surface miles union is of such density that causes it to sink. In the vicinity of
from where the oil surfaces. the subsea blowout, the sediment/oil mixture will settle into
a cooler, less biologically active environment than would be Chemical and physical changes: subsurface found in a shallow water depth. Oil emulsions The oil/sediment mixture could persist there for years as
anaerobic decomposition slowly occurs. This could help explain
Subsea releases may interact with the surrounding water to why occasionally tar mats are washed ashore by storms years
form oil/water emulsions. The data bank on shallow well after a spill occurs.
blowouts suggests that three components are linked to
emulsion formation: asphaltenes, resins, and waxes, with Chemical and physical changes: surface
asphaltenes having the most influence on emulsion formation.
Data suggests that oils with less that 2% asphaltenes tend not Once the hydrocarbon reaches the surface, physical and
to emulsify, between 2% and 5% is a grey area, and greater chemical changes continue to occur.
than 5% would tend towards a stable emulsion formation. Spreading Solution
Once on the surface, the oil spreads. Initial spreading is
In addition to the potential for emulsion formation, other controlled by the density difference between the oil and the
chemical changes that help abate the long-term impact of seawater; which is influenced by wind, waves, and surface
a subsea well blowout take place as the plume rises to the currents. As time passes, viscosity and surface tension control
surface. the spreading of the surface slick. Spreading results in increased
spill surface area, which increases exposure to the biochemical
The first of these processes is the dissolving of low molecular (biodegradation) and physical processes (evaporation) that
weight hydrocarbons from the oil into the seawater. In further reduce the size of the slick.
addition, some of the non-oil components also dissolve into
the seawater. These include the light alkanes (propane through However, spreading has the following disadvantages:
isopentane), and light aromatics (including benzene, toluene,
and xylene). The degree of impact of various crude oils is largely • It decreases the effectiveness of mechanical cleanup;
a result of the percentage of these light aromatics contained in • It increases the potential of the spill eventually impacting
the oil. land;
• It increases the potential that aquatic species, birds, and
The dissolving of these compounds begins as soon as the oil sea-going mammals might be impacted.
comes into contact with seawater and may play a large part in
the various chemical processes taking place, since the height of Evaporation
the plume is greater in subsea, increasing the amount of time
the oil is exposed to the seawater before it reaches the surface. Evaporation occurs when low to medium weight hydrocarbons
in the surface slick volatize into the atmosphere. Spreading
enhances this process. The warmer the climate, the larger the
evaporation component will be.

168 COPYRIGHT © 2015


The lighter the crude oil, the higher the percentage of wing aircraft and helicopters with large fuel capacity will be
evaporation. required to maintain their stations at the spill site to guide both
dispersant applications as well as mechanical recovery vessels.
As the light fractions of the oil are lost, the remaining oil
becomes more viscous. Evaporation is most active in the first During day and night operations, several governments have
few days of the spill and, as it progresses over several days, utilized some form of electronic surveillance and monitoring
emulsification and tar ball formation may commence. This instrumentation (side scanning radar, infrared [IR] cameras)
causes a corresponding increase in the specific gravity that will to monitor as well as detect spills. Some nations utilize these
result in the sinking of the remaining oil. devices to monitor discharge activities of offshore platforms,
vessels, barges and fixed shoreside facilities.
Some research shows that upwards of 30% to 60% of most
crudes are lost to evaporation during a spill. Up to 50% of this In oil spill response, the infrared (IR) camera can be used
loss has been known to occur in the first 12 hours (Brown and to monitor the movement of surface slicks when visual
Huffman, 1976) and result in a substantial reduction of the oil observation cannot be used, and to allow nighttime mechanical
remaining on the surface. The tar balls that are created may operations to occur. Surface infrared units in conjunction with
remain in the marine environment for long periods of time. air deployed infrared system may be used to conduct night
Frequently, they end up being washed up on shorelines many operation oil recovery from surface vessels using conventional
miles from the spill. mechanical skimmers. Photochemical oxidation Both computer and manual spill trajectory models have been
used to enhance electronic surveillance and monitoring of
Oil can interact with sunlight and photo-oxidize into more surface slicks. Spill trajectory models can give air monitoring/
soluble compounds than the original oil. This process also aids surveillance efforts a better idea of where to initiate searching
in the reduction of the amount of oil on the surface. Thin slicks/ for the slick with their electronic systems after night has fallen
sheens can decompose in just a few days. and where to continue additional flights during the night. This
is important when trajectory models predict a current and/or Microbial degradation direction change of the slick during the night.

Bacterial and fungal microorganisms capable of digesting and

decomposing oil are present in all oceans. This biodegradation 6.7.3 Response strategies
converts the hydrocarbons in the crude oil into soluble
oxidized byproducts that eventually convert to carbon dioxide Mechanical containment
and water.
In open sea conditions, it is doubtful that mechanical
The speed of this process is controlled by factors including: containment and recovery techniques alone will be effective in
containing and skimming oil from a subsea well blowout.
• Bacteria concentration at the spill outset;
• The dissolution of light ends from the oil into the Floating boom, the primary means of containing floating oil in
seawater; the open sea, act as barriers to prevent the oil from spreading.
• The availability of phosphorous and nitrogen as nutrients; Most booms consist of a flotation section (either solid or air
• The seawater temperature; filled) above the surface of the water, and a skirt section below
• The concentration of dissolved oxygen in the water; the water surface. Ocean booms are specifically designed
• The amount of oil spilled. in size and strength to counteract the high sea and wind
conditions of an open ocean environment. Most open ocean
booms are designed to function in currents of less than one
6.7.2 Surveillance and monitoring knot, or the oil may entrain (flow under) the skirt of the boom.
Currents of greater than one knot require boom operators to
Once the oil reaches the surface of the seawater, it can be either boom the oil going with the current, or boom backing
tracked by a number of methods. During daylight hours the down from the direction of the current so as to avoid the oil
primary method used to maintain surveillance and monitor the entrainment problem. Recently developed system(s) may be
movement of a surface oil slick is either a fixed wing aircraft or utilized at up to 4 knots without entrainment.
a helicopter. The fact that the subsea release is typically remote
from land may affect the logistical support of said surveillance. Subsea collectors/containment.

In subsea surveillance, time on station vs. time to refuel Most subsea collection/containment devices have been
becomes an issue for helicopters and fixed wing aircraft. Fixed designed either as bell-shaped devices, rigid-wall cylinders,

COPYRIGHT © 2015 169


or flexible columns that do not require any external energy containing and skimming simultaneously, one on the port side
source. All of these types of designs tend to limit access to the and one on the starboard side of the operating platform vessel.
wellhead and prevent the use of other types of well control
measures. In the U-shaped recovery system, the containment boom is
guided by two ocean going vessels, and the operating platform
(skimmer) vessel operates independently of the booming
6.7.4 Recovery configuration, either from inside the U-shaped containment
area or from outside of it with the skimmer being placed inside.
Storage may be the limiting factor in any subsea well blowout
where mechanical containment and recovery devices are used. Newer, customized, and dedicated skimmer vessels are
complete with onboard storage, onboard oily water separators Skimmers to concentrate the oil, and oil heaters to thin the recovered oil.

Open ocean surface skimmers can be categorized into two Storage
general main groups:
For many years, regulatory agencies around the world have
• Weir skimmers; emphasized the need to have sufficient amounts of boom and
• Oleophilic (oil loving/water hating) belt/rope/ drum/disc/ skimmers to contain and cleanup the oil.
brush skimmers.
The inventory of dedicated spill response oil storage may be
The inherent drawback to the weir skimmers is that unless the insufficient to support mechanical spill response efforts in
skimmer is operating in a large pool of oil, the weir will typically the early hours of a response when the surface slick is most
recover a large volume of water along with the oil. The volume concentrated and more easily skimmable.
of water recovered could be as high as 90% to 95% of the total
volume. This restricts the amount of time the weir skimmer
can operate unless there is sufficient storage capacity onsite 6.7.5 Disposal
for the recovered product.
Disposal options depend on the condition of the recovered oil.
Oleophilic skimmers, on the other hand, have the advantage of
skimming 80% to 95% oil in most sea conditions. The better the If the product is relatively fresh, free of emulsification, and
sea conditions, the higher the percentage of oil recovered. This has been processed through an onsite oil-water separator or
is true of weir skimmers as well. gravity dewatered on an onsite storage tanker/barge, then it
is likely that this oil can be taken to a shoreside facility and
All surface skimmers are part of an overall system that includes directly blended into other crude oil stocks and processed
the following components: through a refinery.

• An ocean/open seas vessel as the operating platform for If the recovered oil has not been dewatered onsite in the spill
the skimmer; area but is still relatively fresh and not emulsified, it may be
• A containment boom to concentrate the oil; taken to a shoreside facility for processing.
• A second ocean type vessel to help with oil containment;
• An ocean-going storage barge to store and process the Dispersants
recovered product
Chemical dispersants are surfactants (surface active agents)
Typical offshore recovery system configurations include the that are used to break down the crude oil into tiny droplets
J-shaped, the U-shaped, and the double J-shaped. so that they disperse into the water column where indigenous
bacteria can biodegrade the droplets into harmless by-
The J-shaped recovery configuration includes the operating products.
platform vessel, the skimmer, sufficient ocean boom attached
on one end to the skimming vessel to create a J- shaped Application of dispersants can be accomplished by vessels,
containment area on one side of the skimming vessel, helicopters with slung spray buckets and fixed wing aircraft
the second ocean vessel to help maintain the J- shaped (DC-3, DC-4, C-130). The largest, quickest coverage is provided
containment area, and a storage barge to store the recovered by fixed wing aircraft with a usual dosage of one part dispersant
product. to 20 parts of oil. A fixed wing aircraft spraying 5 gallons of
dispersant per surface acre of oil will achieve this 20:1 ratio.
The double J-shaped configuration simply duplicates a second Emulsified oil will require a larger dosage, sometimes 10:1 or
containment/recovery concept so that there are two Js 5:1.

170 COPYRIGHT © 2015


While most research indicates that the "open window" to spray offers promise as another tool to help combat a subsea well
dispersants on a crude oil slick is limited to 12 to 24 hours blowout.
(depending on the type of crude), recent spraying of nine day

old weathered and emulsified oil implies the "window" may be
longer than first thought. Burning Adams, N.J., Clements, S., Hansen, Quiros, G.A., A., Stone, A.D.,
Voisin, J.A. Case History of Underwater Wild Well Capping:
Surface burning (in-situ burning) is another tool that can Successful Implementation of New Technology on the SLB-5-
be used to help mitigate the impact of a surface oil spill. In- 4X Blowout in Lake Maracaibo, Venezuela. SPE 16673.
situ burning of crude oil normally converts the hydrocarbon
portion of the crude oil into a carbon dioxide and water. Adams, N.J., Kuhlman, L.G. "Deepwater Blowouts: Can We
Control Them?" Offshore Magazine, October, 1989.
In-situ burning requires relatively "fresh" oil that still contains
most of the lighter hydrocarbons and a minimum thickness API Bulletin 5C3, Bulletin on Formulas and Calculations for
(10mm or greater) to maintain combustion. Like dispersants, Casing, Tubing, Drill Pipe, and Line Pipe Properties (6th ed.),
the window of opportunity for in-situ burning may be limited. API, Washington (1994).

To maintain the minimum thickness required, a boom is towed API Recommended Practice 2A, Recommended Practice for
in a "U-shaped" configuration between two vessels through the Planning, Designing and Constructing Fixed Offshore Platforms
slick. A portion of the boom must be fire boom, usually 500 (19th ed.), API, Washington (1991).
ft, so that the boom won't burn up when the oil is ignited. The
500 ft of fire boom is usually accompanied by 400 ft of regular Brown, R.A., and Huffman, H.L., Jr., "Hydrocarbons In Open
boom, 200 ft on each side of the fire boom used as a "guide Ocean Waters," Science, Vol. 191, No. 4229, 27 February 1976,
boom" along with the fire boom. pp. 847 - 849. Bioremediation DEA 63 Study (Drilling Engineers Association), Joint Industry

Program for Floating Vessel Blowout Control, Section 6.2-
Microbial degradation of oil slicks from indigenous bacterial Section Summary.
and fungal populations in seawater will take place. In recent
years there have been several attempts to artificially enhance DEA 63 Study, Joint Industry Program for Floating Vessel
the speed of the degradation process either through the Blowout Control, Section 6.5 - Plume Dynamics.
introduction of additional populations of microbes and/or
additional nutrients. Deepwater Spill Response: Assessment of Current Knowledge of
Spill Behavior, Implications for Removal, and Recommendations
Passive bioremediation relies on using the indigenous for Further Activities, J. D. Allen, C. K. Cooper, T. D. Finnigan, L.
population of bacteria in the seawater while enhancing it A. Young, Chevron E&P Department, September 16, 1997.
through one or more of the following additions:
Kicks and Blowout Control, 2nd Edition, Pennwell Publishing
• Dispersants (increases the surface area by creating small Company, Tulsa, OK, May, 1996.
oil droplets);
• Enzymes (to break the oil molecules into smaller McAuliffe, C.D., "Dispersal and Alteration of Oil Discharged on
fragments); a Water Surface: Fate and Effects of Petroleum Hydrocarbons
• Oxygen (if it is deficient in the sea water); in Marine Ecosystems and Organisms," Proceedings of a
• Addition of nutrients (to increase bacterial growth). Symposium, November, 1976, Seattle, Washington, pp. 19 – 35

Active bioremediation involves the addition of non-indigenous Milgram, J. H., “Mean Flow in Round Bubble Plumes," Journal of
colonies of bacteria to those already present in the seawater. Fluid Mechanics, Vol. 133, pages 345-376, 1983.
These colonies of artificial bacteria are specific to hydrocarbons,
the heavy metals, and aromatic compounds in the oil, and National Research Council, Using Oil Spill Dispersants on the
may include enzymes that will help to further break down the Sea, National Academy Press, Washington, D.C., 1989.
molecules in the oil, as well as necessary vitamins, minerals,
and amino acids to boost bacterial growth. Oil Spill Intelligence Reports White Paper Series, Vol. 2, No. 2,
March, 1998.
Aircraft applications of this mixture are the preferred method,
but vessel application can be used as well. Bioremediation

COPYRIGHT © 2015 171