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Remotely Operated Vehicles involved in the

Deepwater Horizon response

Figure 1 Snapshot of the fleet showing the Discoverer Enterprise drillship in the centre, the Q4000 MODU
at the top right, and the Viking Poseidon to the lower right.
Source: Reuters

The subsea activities being undertaken in response to the tragic incidents aboard the Deepwater Horizon semi-
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submersible mobile drilling unit (MODU) on April 20 2010 have been performed by remotely operated vehicles
(ROV). ROV are underwater robots powered and controlled from a surface vessel or platform via an umbilical.
The ROV used are equipped with dual manipulators and are of a grouping known as “work-class” (WROV) as
they perform the work that would have historically been undertaken by divers in shallow waters. The water depth
at the Macondo well is approximately 1500m and although well out of the reach of divers, is not now considered
especially deep when compared with some of the other oil and gas projects already in place or under
development. All the WROV in use at the site are capable of working in depths of at least 3000m. Some
autonomous underwater vehicles (AUV) are also being used to collect seawater samples and to map the extent
of the oil in the water column.

At the time of writing (end of June 2010), the situation at Macondo is that some fluid and gas is being diverted to
the Helix Energy owned Q4000 semi-submersible MODU via a subsea manifold connected to the faulty blow-out
preventer (BOP) that should have activated and sheared the drill pipe and sealed the well. Another connection
has been made from the top of the BOP to the Transocean owned Discoverer Enterprise drill ship via a cap that
has been secured to the newly cut drilling riser that projects from the top of the BOP. Relief wells are being drilled
by a pair of Transocean platforms. To reach this stage, many operator and vehicle hours have been spent
observing to enable the response engineers to assess the damage to the subsea infrastructure and to determine
possible solutions.

Some of the first WROV on scene were the two Schilling Ultra Heavy Duty (UHD) WROV operated by C-
Innovation that were deployed from the Max Chouest ROV/platform support vessel and that attempted to activate
the BOP. The attempt to activate the BOP involved the WROV providing hydraulic pressure via a connecting
hose that (if all was working properly) force the BOP shear to cut through or crush the drill-pipe. The UHD has a
200HP hydraulic power-pack that is used to power its thrusters and has an additional power-pack of up to 75HP
to power tooling. The 3m long, 2m high vehicles weigh 5000kg in air and are available with depth ratings of up to
4000m. 50 UHD vehicles have been built to date since starting production in 2007 and are predominantly owned
by operators with large vessel fleets such as C-Innovation (the ROV division of Gulf of Mexico support company
Edison Chouest Offshore), and Bourbon Offshore.
Figure 2 Shilling UHD
Source: Schilling
Figure 3 C-Innovation UHD 05 attempting to activate
the Deepwater Horizon BOP
Source: BP/C-Innovation/USCG

The most powerful WROV on site is the Oceaneering Maxximum WROV that has a 300HP hydraulic power-
pack, and is hosted onboard the Ocean Intervention III ROV support vessel that is owned by Island Offshore on a
long term lease with Oceaneering. The other WROV on the vessel is a 150HP Oceaneering Millennium vehicle,
and both have depth ratings of 3000m.

Many WROV are deployed directly from a host vessel with their power and control umbilical being supported at
one end by the vessel and the other end by the WROV. In deep-water, the necessary length and thickness of
umbilical to reach from the surface and give the vehicle sufficient working range whilst at depth would mean that
the vehicle would have to be equipped with extra buoyancy and thruster power. Instead, deep-water ROV are
connected to a lightweight umbilical (known as a tether) of up to 900m in length that is in turn connected to the
thicker, heavier primary umbilical that reaches to the surface vessel via a tether management system (TMS). The
ROV is launched and recovered attached to the TMS either in a cage-type garage or attached via a locking latch
system to a top-hat style TMS.

On modern, dedicated ROV support vessels such as the Ocean Intervention III used by Oceaneering to deploy
their Maxximum WROV, the TMS and ROV is deployed via an extendable arm that brings the vehicle from its
resting position inside the vessel to a point well clear of the side of the vessel where there is less risk of impacts
during the launch or recovery process in heavy weather than would the case is a through the hull “moon-pool”
was used.

Figure 4: Oceaneering Hydra Maxximum in TMS Figure 5 Ocean Intervention III with WROV launch
cage arm extended
Source: Oceaneering Source: Island Offshore

The WROV at the site have performed a wide range of duties with their manipulators and onboard tooling but
they are also used to position and provide power to tools that are suspended from the surface vessels. In the
early days of the response, this included the insertion of a collection tube into the broken riser – the tube was
connected to the Transocean Discoverer Enterprise drillship. The WROV were then used to install a subsea
manifold that connected to the BOP to allow the “top-kill” and “junk-shot” procedures to be attempted. A number
of containment cap solutions designed to rest over the damaged riser and BOP were attempted but failed due to
the build up of hydrates that effectively blocked the flow.

What has now been seen as the most successful operation in the response was the cutting and removal of
sections of the damaged riser pipe from the BOP so that a more effective collection cap could be fitted to the
BOP and allow for much greater recovery volumes. The lower marine riser containment (LMRP) cap contains
methanol injection lines that are used to reduce the build up of hydrates, and the structure has a rubber grommet
that prevents leaks when compressed.

Figure 6: The Genesis XP2500 shears used


Source: Genesis Attachments

Figure 7: Cutting riser with diamond band saw


Source: BP

The first cut on the riser was made using a set of hydraulic shears from Genesis Attachments that weigh around
25 tonnes and that can exert 29,000kN of force. The second cut – at the top of the BOP was achieved using a
diamond coated band saw from Cutting Underwater Technologies. This technology is already used in the
decommissioning of redundant oil and gas platforms. The cutting tool was manoeuvred into place by a WROV
and locked itself onto the BOP. The continuous diamond coated cutting band is mounted on a series of pulleys
that are move into position once the tool is securely in position. Hydraulic power and control for the tool is
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provided via the ROV. The LMRP cap was installed on the 3 of June and takes oil and gas to the Discoverer
Enterprise drill-ship where oil is collected and gas is flared. A second system, which began operations on the 16th
of June , takes oil and gas from the BOP via the subsea manifold to the Q4000 semi-submersible where both oil
and gas are flared. This followed calls for increased redundancy in the recovery operations that resulted from a
shut-down caused by a lightning strike on the drillship. Recovery operations were interrupted again when a
WROV accidently closed one of the pressure relief vents on the LMRP during a manoeuvre. This required the
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LMRP to be brought to the surface, repaired and re-installed during a 10 hour operation on the 24 June. The
next step is to install a buoyed riser system that will be disconnectable in the case of severe surface weather
conditions, and will recovery oil and gas to the Helix Producer 1 floating production vessel (owned by Helix
Energy Solutions) from the subsea manifold currently used by the Q4000.
Figure 8 Q4000 MODU Figure 9 Venom ROV
Source: MarineLog Source: SMD

The physical demands on both WROV and their operators in this response are far greater than would normally be
the case for drill support operations due to the sheer amount of dive time needed and the understandable
pressure from the public and the US government. Whilst the provision of live feeds from ROV cameras has
allowed a rare glimpse into the previously hidden and unknown world of subsea operations, any interruption in
the broadcast is met with media fuelled cries of cover-up and conspiracy, which puts even more pressure on the
personnel involved. Only once the leaking well is finally sealed, and an analysis of both the incident and the
response undertaken will the real implications on the people, environment and industry in the Gulf of Mexico be
understood.
Autonomous Underwater Vehicles involved in the
Deepwater Horizon response

Figure 11 Teledyne Webb Research Slocum


Figure 10 Bluefin-21 with Gulper system Glider “Waldo” owned by Rutgers University
Source: MBARI Source: US National Parks Service

A number of scientific AUV have been deployed in an attempt to map the spill and to take samples from within
the water column to detect and measure levels of oil and chemical dispersants. The Monterrey Bay Aquarium
Research Institute is working with the US National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and
have deployed a Bluefin Robotics “Bluefin-21” AUV from the NOAA Ship Gordon Gunter fitted with a “Gulper”
water-sample acquisition system. The Gulper is a syringe-like instrument which has a 2 litre bottle actuated by an
electromagnetic trigger which can obtain a sample in about 2 seconds, and was developed in association with
Strathclyde University.

The Mote Marine Laboratory has deployed three Teledyne Webb Slocum Glider vehicles (in association with
Rutgers University and the University of Delaware) to patrol Florida’s Gulf coast and detect signs of oil – in
essence to act as an early warning system. It is likely that additional gliders that are fitted with optical
phytoplankton sensors will be added to operations in the near future. Phytoplankton form the basis of the entire
food web and changes in the phytoplankton community could signal widespread disruption for other larger marine
species from fish to mammals. Gliding AUV have potentially long ranges and high endurance but cannot perform
well in locations with strong currents. One of the Mote Marine Laboratory gliders (known as “Waldo”), was sent
on a mission to patrol the Continental Shelf for oil just north and west of Key West and was tasked with looking
underwater for evidence of the spill in an area that oil might be expected to appear if it is carried south in the
Loop Current. Waldo has a science payload containing an optical backscatter system, a dissolved organic matter
sensor and a Chlorophyll-a sensor as well as a conductivity, temperature and depth sensor. However, when it
entered the pass between the Dry Tortugas and Rebecca Shoal, it couldn't swim against the strong currents
there. It stopped sending data to shore and was recovered and subsequently relocated to a region with lower
currents.

Other gliders have been deployed by the US Naval Oceanographic Office, the University of Southern Florida (all
Slocum Gliders), the University of Washington (an iRobot SeaGlider) and a Bluefin Robotics Spray glider from
the Scripps Institute of Oceanography. The Naval owned gliders are operating in the restricted zone around and
to the south of the Macondo well whilst the academic vehicles are operating along the coastline to the east and
west. This co-ordinated use of gliders and AUV is perhaps the first demonstration of ocean observation system
technology that has crossed from the academic into the public domain.

Background information
The ROV supporting vessels working at the site of the Macondo-1 well at the end of June 2010 include:
Ocean Intervention III – a ROV and support vessel on long-term charter to Oceaneering and hosting a pair of
Oceaneering Hydra Maxximum 300HP WROV that can be deployed using a heavy weather side launch and
recovery system (LARS).
Viking Poseidon – a dedicated subsea construction and ROV support vessel on long-term contract with Veolia
Environmental Services. The vessel was built in 2008, is 130m in length and uses the Ulstein X-bow design. She
hosts a pair of Triton XLX 4000m rated, 150HP WROV.

Boa DeepC – an offshore construction vessel on long-term contract with Aker Marine Contractors. She hosts a
pair of Oceaneering Hydra Millenium Plus 3000m rated WROV.

Max Chouest – a 2007 built anchor handling and supply vessel was on scene at the time of the incident and
hosted a Schilling UHD WROV from C-Innovation.

Skandi Neptune - was built in 2001 as a cable layer. In 2005, she was converted to a multi-purpose offshore
support vessel and is currently on long term charter to Subsea 7. She supports a pair of Subsea 7 Intervention
technology Hercules WROV.

Transocean Discoverer Enterprise Drillship – The drillships is being used to support the LMRP containment cap
and process the recovered oil and gas. It is one of the few drill-ships equipped with dual derricks and production
facilities. A pair of Oceaneering Hydra Millenium WROV are based from the vessel.

Helix SG Q4000 MODU - Constructed in 2002, the Q4000 is a DP3 semi-submersible MODU specifically
designed for well intervention in deep water. The Q4000 is receiving oil and gas from the manifold connected to
the BOP . It hosts a pair of 3000m rated SMD Venom WROV.

Transocean Development Driller 2 and 3 – the two relief wells for Macondo are being drilled by these MODU.
Sonsub (the ROV division of Saipem) operate a pair in-house manufactured Innovator 150HP WROV from the
Development Driller 2.

Paul Newman can be contacted via Douglas-Westwood

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