Facing South

Another disaster waiting? Shell running "sister rig" in Gulf nearly identical to ill-fated Deepwater Horizon

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the largest offshore oil drilling contractor in the world. Transocean has its roots in Birmingham, Ala., where it spun off from Sonat, Inc. in 1993. Today -- after a dizzying series of mergers and acquisitions-- Transocean is incorporated in Switzerland, has locations in 20 countries, and boasts an unparalleled fleet of 136 offshore rigs.

With the state-of-the-art Deepwater rigs, Transocean sought to revolutionize the offshore drilling industry. With shallow water oil exploration seeing diminishing returns -- and oil prices still climbing earlier in the decade -- Transocean gave oil companies the rigs they needed to drill deeper and further in the ocean to realize energy profits. By 2007, Transocean had a world-leading 48 deep water rigs that it leased to oil companies like British Petroleum and Shell Oil.

Up until two weeks ago, Transocean's deep-water operations in the Gulf of Mexico seemed full of promise. Last September, Offshore magazine reported that Deepwater Horizon, leased by BP, had set a record by striking oil at the Keathley Canyon block in the Gulf of Mexico at 35,055 feet -- making it the "deepest well ever drilled by the
oil and gas industry." BP lauded the feet as a sign of good things to come:

"These material discoveries together with our industry leading acreage position support the continuing growth of our deepwater Gulf of Mexico business ..."

That optimism went up in smoke with Deepwater Horizon's explosion, calling into question the rest of Transocean's offshore projects -- especially Horizon's sister rig, Deepwater Nautilus.

Deepwater Nautilus 2.jpgNautilus is virtually identical to the ill-fated Horizon. Nautilus came first, launched in 2000 and touted to be first in a series of "Fifth Generation Deepwater" rigs that were to lead Transocean's "deeper and further" drilling
strategy. Both were made by Hyundai Heavy Industries in Ulsan, South Korea, and their technical specifications read almost like carbon copies.

Nautilus is leased by Shell Oil, which -- like BP with Horizon -- aimed its drills in the Mississippi Canyon prospecting area, located in the central region of the Gulf of Mexico. This past March, Shell announced it had "struck black gold" in Mississippi Canyon blocks 391 and 392 -- just miles to the west of block 252, where Horizon blew and unleashed its spill.

Nautilus' discovery led David Lawrence, Shell's executive vice president of exploration, to enthuse:

This discovery builds on a successful 2009 exploration program in the Gulf of Mexico, where Shell had discoveries at West Boreas, Vito and Cardamom Deep ... Shell has the technology, the expertise and a skilled, motivated workforce to expand oil and natural gas production in the US and worldwide.

But in the wake of the Deepwater Horizon disaster, the future may not be so rosy for Shell and Deepwater Nautilus.

Given their nearly identical designs, Nautilus may suffer from the same design flaws that destroyed Horizon. For example, one possible explanation for the April 20 blowout is a
failure in the "cementing" process
that creates a seal between the pipe and the hole drilled into the ocean floor. Halliburton/KBR has been fingered as the company in charge of cementing for Deepwater Horizon; right now, Transocean's website merely lists "third party" as being responsible for Deepwater Nautilus' cementing.

It's also not clear whether Deepwater Nautilus, like its companion rig Horizon, lacks an automatic "acoustic trigger," a remote shut-off devise required on rigs in Brazil and Norway that some experts believe could have helped stave the release of gushing oil. The Department of Interior doesn't require acoustic triggers; Sen. Ben Nelson (D-FL) of Florida has asked for a review of the agency's policies for requiring additional back-up measures to cap spills.

Facing South's calls to Transocean and Shell Oil were not returned by the time this story went to press.

Concerns about Nautilus are compounded by recent reports of Transocean's checkered safety and reliability record. As the Wall Street Journal reported this week, Transocean's directors decided to forego executive bonuses in the wake of the deaths of four Transocean rig operators in 2009.

Even absent a Horizon-scale catastrophe, Nautilus has already had its share of dangerous incidents in the perilous world of deep-water drilling. In September 2005, Hurricane Rita pummeled Nautilus, sending the rig and its 45-member crew adrift at sea. Harrowing as that was, it wasn't Nautilus' worst scrape with disaster
during hurricane season, as the industry website Rigzone reported at the time:

[Hurricane Rita] is not the first time the Deepwater Nautilus has been on the losing end of encounters with powerful Gulf of Mexico hurricanes. In September of last year Hurricane Ivan tore the rig from its Shell offshore location, one hundred sixty miles south of Mobile, Alabama. The rig was later found slightly damaged some seventy miles from its original drilling location. Three weeks ago Katrina sent the rig on another unplanned and unmanned eighty mile voyage leaving rig mooring lines, anchors and 3,200 feet of marine riser pipe on the ocean floor.

The 2010 Atlantic hurricane season starts June and is expected to have a higher-than-average number of storms.

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re: Another disaster waiting? Shell running "sister rig" in Gulf

The problems on the Deepwater Horizon do not appear to have anything to do with the rig design. While the facts are not yet fully known, the types of problems that occurred were most likely tied to problems with the well and the BOPs, not the rig. Additionally, an accoustic switch would have done nothing to prevent this problem that occurred.

re: Another disaster waiting? Shell running "sister rig" in Gulf

The problem was not the platform. There were two errors--one at the bottom of the hole, either the cement job (Halliburton!) or the shoe--and one at the ocean floor, where the blowout preventer (which could have been more modern)partially failed. Ken Deffeyes site has a good summary at http://www.princeton.edu/hubbert/current-events.html

re: Another disaster waiting? Shell running "sister rig" in Gulf

Chris,

Your article seems to imply that the Deepwater class of drilling rig is poorly designed or has 'design flaws' that contributed to the Deepwater Horizon explosion. However, none of the points that you raise are anything to do with the design of the Deepwater class.

Firstly, the performance of the cementing operation during well completion is not a design issue for the rig, it's an operational issue for the completions team: the problems in cementing that contribute most to blowouts occur deep in the well or at the wellhead on the sea bed, not in the rig. The rig design is not a factor.

Second, your mention of the acoustic trigger is again perpetuating this 'red herring' that assumes that if there was an acoustic trigger available on April 20th that the explosion would not have happened. That's a false assumption. The acoustic trigger is just another way to trigger the BOP valve on the sea bed to close, nothing more. It does not guarantee that the valve will close and is nothing to do with the design of the drilling rig in question since the trigger would be installed on a nearby support vessel.

Think of it this way: the acoustic trigger is another switch, same as your hallway light has two switches (not exactly, but go with me here). If you flip one switch (on the rig) to turn the light on and the light doesn't come on, do you walk over to the other (on a nearby boat, the acoustic trigger) and try it? Maybe you do, but what's the problem 99.9 times out of 100? The bulb has burned out and needs replacing. Generally, it is not the switch, that's the issue.

That simple example is close to what seems (and you can visit the Oil Drum, or Daily Hurricane blogs to find those resources) to have happened. The key evidence that the BOP valve (the light bulb) was the problem and not any of the many ways to trigger it on the rig, some passive and some active, is that the valve failed to close when it lost contact with the surface and lost power. These ways are the 'dead man handles' you might have heard of. Even BP couldn't close the valve manually using ROVs.

Please follow the evidence and study emergency shutdown systems before jumping to the conclusion that these rigs are flawed. there's nothing to suggest that they are at this point and drawing conclusions about that without proper evidence is irresponsible.

Regards,
Terry.

re: Another disaster waiting? Shell running "sister rig" in Gulf

Chris,

Additionally to the point I make about the acoustic trigger and the explsion. There are two different aspects to this I should clarify. The hypothetical role in the explosion and the leak.

The acoustic trigger presence or lack of, probably would not have made any difference to the explosion - the indications that the well was kicking should have been there on the rig for the crew to react to. I can't do more than speculate what happened there.

An acoustic trigger on a support vessel *might* have prevented the catastrophic leak after the explosion by allowing the crew to command the valve to close from the support vessel after the crew abandoned the rig. But I've seen reports indicating that the crew issued the command from the rig before abandoning it. The issue, again the evidence leads this way, seems to be that the valve did not close or closed only partially when asked to.

By the way, I note (see Wikipedia) that the Deepwater vessels have real-time drilling telemetry systems, transmitting the instrumentation data from the well to shore. This means that BP and Transocean know what the instruments were saying up to the moment that the rig exploded and possibly a bit more. Could you focus on asking why we have not heard much about that key information?

Regards,
Terry.

re: Another disaster waiting? Shell running "sister rig" in Gulf

Oil companies sally forth obviously technically under-equipped, and driven by politics, and oil prices, and perform very dangerous, almost fool-hardy tasks to satisfy the American Oil Addiction. Meanwhile, China and Europe, both aware of these difficulties and the rising price of oil and its scarcity in the world, have prepared nuclear/electric, powered electric bullet train networks and a new life-style paradigm for their patriots. In the rapidly approaching new age, all oil based endeavors will be considered folly of the past age, and folks will work much like cruise-ship employees, on live-in contracts at factory and office locations for extended periods - even months at a time, then retire to homes for similar time-spans for rejuvenation, restoration and family life. This no oil, no superfluous transportation, no suburbia pattern already exists in Asia, and will spread to America by economic necessity as unemployability rises, wages fall, productivity falls and a desperation falls over the country. Economic realities are knocking on the Western World's front door, loudly! Greece - Bankrupt, the Euro - about to fall, the U.S. sawbuck devalued to toilet paper values - the Asian Yuan, strongest than ever! The problem - the rising price of oil, the base from witch we all work! China builds reactors, ten a year, in desperation for cheaper energy and to escape the higher prices for oil, and wisely so, and America must follow and convert her foreign liquid energy economy to a domestic electric one using Nuclear, Solar, Wind, Wave, Hydro, Tidal and Geothermal resources to the fullest extent - or be economically raped by those countries that do, paying in oil based dollars for Nuclear energy produced products and losing big at the trade tables of the world - oil is the problem not the solution and all the drilling possible in America will only be a short term relief to the real problem - energy production.

re: Another disaster waiting? Shell running "sister rig" in Gulf

I think may not be the cement job or as it's a new rig for the blow out system to be seem very modern and didn't work properly; it may be a human erro to not take time to late cement dry than start to displace the well with sea water, the force of gas from the well was superior than the fluid wt above cement as cement was not dry yet than well just went thru cement they should live the mud as it was waitin' 13ppg untill to have cement dried than go and displace the well, the CO man should follow the operation procedure not be in rush

re: Another disaster waiting? Shell running "sister rig" in Gulf

The rig was made by Hyundai - that pretty much sums it up! Crappy cars, crappy oil rigs. Boycott Hyundai!!!

An oil-soaked pelican somewhere off the coast of LA

re: Another disaster waiting? Shell running "sister rig" in Gulf

Too claim that this class of rigs is faulty because ONE had a faliure of equipement "not on the rig" but on the sea floor at the time of the faliure is misleading at best and a falsification of data at worst. Then again, WHY would anyone associated with the "Tree hugger crowd" ever have a need to tell the truth when/where it comes to the Oil industry.

Another "fact" that y'all don't like admitting too is the so called "peak oil" phenomenon is a falsification of y'alls too. To back this up, in the past three years JUST in the Gulf of Mexico (GOM) there have been several significant finds that equall all the oil in the World that was thought to exist by you so called experts just ten years ago. Here's another little fact y'all hate to have brought to the publics attention; The Earth itself is creating oil; its existance has NOTHING to do with Dinosaurs dying or any of that other gobblygook y'all belch at every protest. Fact! New massive oil fields have been found in Bedrock; NOT sedimentry soil is purported by the "Hate America crowd" otherwise known as Libs.

Try researching the facts before you print such garbage!

Drill Deep & Drill OFTEN!!!!

re: Another disaster waiting? Shell running "sister rig" in Gulf

There alway's a mil.reason why or how something couid have been done;but the true of it all is'That no maater where the RIG's were made!Transocean has alway's said thah anyone who feel that something's are unsafe they can stop the JOB!Well it has been all over the news that they had many things going wrong before that rig blew-up;why didn't they STOP THE JOB;IF they had them 11 guy's would be home with there wife and kid's!And don't tell me it was because of BP company man because that not true.Because if the O I M had any dout that BP COMPANY was saying anything that would put any LIFE at risk it was the OIM job to stop the JOB!The true is Transocean are risk taker as long as nothing gose wrong;but when it dose they BLAME there worker'' but in the case of 11 guy's losing there Life;they blame BP'See BP HAS nothing to do with tarining Transocean hand in SAFETY!So for all the reason's you all have commented on about this RIG and Transocean have any of you work there or any of other RIGS!I'am sure if you have your comment would be the same as mine!And if this is not TRUTH and not good for you all.Then go and look in the eye's of those 11 guy's wife and Kid's and let them know that had that OIM made that call to STOP the JOB; there LOVE ONE WOULD BE HOME SAFE;as they would say on all TRANSOCEAN RIG'S''SAFETY FIRST WHAT HAPPEN TO THAT!May GOD FOREVER BLESS THE 11 GUY'S WHO WERE LOST AND COULD HAVE BEEN SAVED!!!!