An experimental capping stack system that could potentially be used to stop stronger, deeper oil spills than BP’s Deepwater Horizon disaster is being tested at a secret location in the Gulf of Mexico.
Federal regulators from the Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement were on site to witness the towering device being lowered with wires onto a test wellhead 7,000 feet below the surface.
Houston-based Marine Well Containment Company (MWCC) engineered the capping system. The company was established by several large offshore oil drillers in response to tougher government drilling requirements created in the wake of the Deepwater Horizon explosion, which killed 11 workers and flooded the Gulf with more than 200 million gallons of oil.
Although BP had said in its Deepwater Horizon drilling plans that it could quickly stop and clean up a deep-sea oil spill, its Macondo well blowout proved the opposite. In reality, BP made a series of failed attempts to stop the oil geyser as one device after another failed and the well erupted out of control for 85 days.
Before the government would re-issue deepwater drilling permits, it required oil companies to prove they could deal with a crisis like the Deepwater Horizon spill. Pressured by the oil lobby, however, the government started reissuing permits in early 2011.
The well containment system is being lowered and positioned onto a test well 7,000 feet deep, about 2,000 feet deeper than the Macondo well, and was designed to contain up to 4.2 million gallons of oil and 200 million cubic feet of natural gas per day – a greater volume than that released by the Macondo well on a daily basis. Once in place, the system will be pressurized so engineers can gauge how effective the device would be in containing a real-life spill.
“Testing this equipment in real-time conditions and ultra-deep water depths will help ensure that the MWCC is ready and able to respond in a moment’s notice should the need arise,” BSEE Director Jim Watson said in a statement.