Frequently Asked Questions
WHO ARE THE MEMBER COMPANIES?
Our membership reflects a diverse group of offshore companies operating and co-participating in the U.S. Gulf of Mexico. We currently have eighteen members: Cobalt International Energy, L.P., Deep Gulf Energy LP, ENI US Operating Co. Inc., EnVen Energy Ventures, LLC, Energy Resource Technology GOM, LLC, LLOG Exploration Company, LLC, Marathon Oil Company, Marubeni Oil & Gas (USA) Inc., Murphy Exploration & Production Company - USA, Noble Energy, Inc., Petrobas USA Inc., Red Willow Offshore, LLC, Repsol Services Company, Ridgewood Energy WCG Member, LLC, Stone Energy Corporation, TOTAL E&P USA, INC., Walter Oil & Gas Corporation and W&T Offshore, Inc.
WHAT ARE HWCG’S CONTAINMENT CAPABILITIES?Our ready response system is currently capable of operating in water depths up to 10,000 feet. We possess two dual ram capping stacks engineered to perform at pressures of 10,000 psig and 15,000 psig. Our response system can capture and process 130,000 barrels of oil liquids per day and 220 million cubic feet of gas per day. This comprehensive system is fully capable of capping and containing a well in the event of a blowout preventer failure.
WHY WAS THE HWCG CONSORTIUM FOUNDED?In the aftermath of the Deepwater Horizon event, offshore energy companies joined together to form HWCG with the mission of developing a comprehensive and rapid deepwater containment response system for the Gulf of Mexico. Utilizing the lessons learned during that response effort, our system builds on the equipment ultimately proven effective in the containment of the Deepwater Horizon well.
WHAT HAPPENS IN THE EVENT OF A WELL CONTAINMENT EVENT?
While offshore equipment is carefully engineered to prevent the loss of well control, offshore oil and gas operators must be ready to respond in the event of a deepwater blowout. A blowout refers to the uncontrolled release of formation fluids and pressure from a well. HWCG’s mission, equipment and processes are engineered to contain the flow and bring a blown out well back under control.
If a deepwater well containment incident occurs, the Responsible Party will activate its Oil Spill Response Plan, which includes a well containment plan. All subsea operators must submit these plans to BSEE before drilling a well.
Once our dedicated emergency response line receives a call, equipment and personnel begin to mobilize immediately. A pre-planned alert goes out to our members who have pledged to assist each other under mutual aid protocols in the event an incident occurs.
After the health and safety of all personnel onboard the rig or floating production platform is secured, response operations begin through the Source Control incident command structure. Remotely Operated Vehicles (ROVs) will be deployed to assess subsea conditions. Any debris blocking access to the well will be cleared or towed away. Subject to EPA approval, subsea dispersants may be applied to diffuse a subsea oil plume.
The key piece of equipment, a capping stack, will be deployed to seal the BOP ram and stop the flow of hydrocarbons. Once the stack is successfully latched to the wellhead, operators will submit a well kill procedure to BSEE for approval.
WHAT TOOLS OR EQUIPMENT ARE USED FOR WELL CONTAINMENT?
The key piece of equipment required for well containment is the capping stack. A capping stack uses stored hydraulic pressure to seal off the damaged blowout preventer and stop the flow of hydrocarbons. HWCG maintains two capping stacks rated for pressures up to 10,000 psig and 15,000 psig.
A Subsea Accumulator Module (SAM) provides hydraulic pressure to power the capping stack. An Underwater Distribution Base (UDB) may be utilized to recharge the SAM unit as reserve pressure is depleted.
An intervention riser system may be used to facilitate the capture and flow of hydrocarbons for safe storage and processing in a surface vessel.
HWCG maintains dedicated contracts with vessels that work daily in the Gulf of Mexico for immediate assistance in the event of a well containment incident. These specialized assets include Helix Energy Solutions Group’s Q4000 and Helix Producer 1 vessels for containment and AET’s Aframax tankers for storage and off-loading of captured fluids.
HOW HAS DEEPWATER WELL CONTAINMENT RESPONSE AND PROCESSES FOR RESPONSIBLE OFFSHORE DRILLING PROGRESSED?
Since the consortium was established in 2011, HWCG has continually upgraded equipment and processes to meet member needs. We have added a second capping stack and engineered improvements to our capture and flow processes that have increased our capacity by more than 100,000 barrels per day.
HWCG’s Deepwater Intervention Technical Committee continues to review and prioritize further upgrades to our technology. We employ a modular design philosophy, which means we engineer each response system component to be upgraded or replaced without interfering with the rest of the system. This gives us flexibility as our response system continues to progress.
WHAT IS THE RESPONSE/CONTAINMENT TIME? HOW HAS IT IMPROVED SINCE DEEPWATER HORIZON?
HWCG is ready to respond immediately and comprehensively. We begin mobilizing equipment to the scene within 24 hours.
In 2013, we successfully completed an unannounced, full-scale deployment drill with our member, Noble Energy, in less than one week. This demonstrates significant improvement since Deepwater Horizon, which took 87 days to contain.
HOW IS THE SOLUTION TESTED/HAS THE SOLUTION BEEN TESTED?
Yes, we host and participate in a series of drills and exercises throughout the year to test and train against our response solution. Our large, annual source control exercise brings together hundreds of experts, including our members, mutual aid partners and regulators, to simulate an incident and response scenario.
Additionally, we have successfully completed an unannounced, full-scale deployment drill with our member, Noble Energy. During the drill, our capping stack was deployed in the Gulf of Mexico in over 5,000 feet of water and pressurized to 8,400 pounds per square inch.
HOW IS HWCG KEEPING UP WITH THE INCREASINGLY CHALLENGING ENVIRONMENTS OF OFFSHORE DRILLING?
We created a Deepwater Intervention Technical Committee (DITC), comprised of more than thirty industry experts, to promote the technological advancement of our response system. These committee members recommend and prioritize technical upgrades, such as thermal and pressure rating increases for our equipment, to ensure we stay ahead of member needs.
WHAT IS RESPONDER IMMUNITY AND HOW DOES IT WORK?
Under the Oil Pollution Act of 1990 (OPA 90), Congress created a provision that protects emergency responders from frivolous lawsuits. It is considered the maritime equivalent of a Good Samaritan law. The goal of responder immunity is to encourage emergency responders to take immediate action to contain or cleanup an offshore oil spill.
Under responder immunity, the Responsible Party is still liable for all removal costs and damages resulting from an offshore oil spill. However, the Responsible Party does benefit from responder immunity because it encourages other organizations to help minimize the amount of oil spilled and contribute to cleanup efforts.
After Deepwater Horizon, the current responder immunity provision proved inadequate to protect response organizations from frivolous lawsuits. HWCG advocates for a strengthened responder immunity provision to protect people, property and the environment.
WHAT GROUPS ARE INVOLVED IN AN OFFSHORE OIL SPILL RESPONSE AND WELL CONTAINMENT EFFORT?
HWCG works closely with each of our member companies to ensure their understanding of the consortium’s response solution as reflected in their submittals to the Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement (BSEE). All offshore operators must file Oil Spill Response Plans with BSEE prior to drilling in the Gulf of Mexico.
During an incident, we assist the Member-Operator of the Consortium who operates under an Incident Command System. The ICS includes key personnel from the U.S. Coast Guard and BSEE, who represent the Federal Government on response operations. Additionally, HWCG’s Mutual Aid program harnesses the experience and knowledge of over two hundred industry experts who are committed to the rapid and effective containment of a subsea blowout.
WHY BECOME A MEMBER COMPANY OF HWCG?
HWCG has invested in the best available technology, engineering and minds, applying important lessons learned from the past, to create a comprehensive well containment solution.
Our unique approach to retaining availability to the best equipment in the industry provides us with a significant advantage with immediately available equipment in the event of an emergency.
Additionally, our industry-leading mutual aid program creates a shared pool of information, assets and experts available to our members. Our relationships and contracts with over thirty service companies provide expertise, assistance and equipment.
HOW DOES HWCG CURRENTLY WORK WITH EXISTING ENVIRONMENTAL AND SAFETY REGULATIONS?
HWCG works alongside its member companies in the development of response plans and protocols, which the Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement (BSEE) reviews according to regulatory standards.
We work within the guidelines set forth by BSEE in its Notice To Lessees (NTL) No. 2010-N10 and Federal Codes to help regulators evaluate and operators demonstrate adequate well containment resources.
HOW OFTEN WOULD YOU EXPECT TO DEPLOY THE WELL CONTAINMENT SOLUTION LIKE HWCG’S RESPONSE SYSTEM?
Due to the additional planning and requirements introduced by BSEE after Deepwater Horizon, the likelihood of a blowout has been heavily reduced.
Deepwater blowouts are relatively rare occurrences. There have been two major blowout events affecting the Gulf of Mexico in approximately forty years – the explosion of PEMEX’s Ixtoc well and the blowout of the Deepwater Horizon Macondo prospect.