Four oil giants plan to spend $1 billion to jointly design, manufacture and store equipment to respond to an oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, part of an effort to bolster their capabilities in the wake of the BP disaster and to reassure Congress members worried about future drilling.
Exxon Mobil, Royal Dutch Shell, ConocoPhillips and Chevron will unveil a plan today to form a nonprofit Marine Well Containment Co. and to prepare equipment similar to what BP began to design and assemble only after the April 20 explosion that sank the Deepwater Horizon drilling rig and triggered the massive oil spill in the gulf.
Exxon Mobil will lead the engineering and construction efforts, which the companies said they hoped to complete in 18 months.
The new, multicompany response plan focuses on how to quickly stop the flow of oil from a leaking subsea well and how to channel the oil to vessels nearby. It does not include new measures for how to skim oil from water or to clean soiled shorelines.
The companies said that "dedicated crews" will ensure regular maintenance, inspection and readiness of the equipment.
The plan comes as Congress is mulling new requirements for deepwater offshore drilling, which has been halted by an Obama administration six-month moratorium. The House Wednesday passed two bills that would push for better oil spill response and safety technologies.
Meanwhile, a separate investigation hearing was canceled Wednesday after the four Transocean witnesses scheduled to testify declined to appear in Kenner, La. All four had been issued subpoenas, but because they do not live within the specific geographic jurisdiction of the joint investigation, the board cannot compel them to appear. Testimony is scheduled to resume today.
The oil companies' plan got a mixed review from one key lawmaker. "This is only one possible tool in what must be a more robust tool kit for oil companies to respond to spills," said Rep. Edward Markey, D.-Mass., chairman of the House Energy and Commerce's subcommittee on energy and environment. "This could be a positive step, but it cannot be the industry's last."
The companies said that they plan to construct equipment that would be "flexible, adaptable and able to be deployed within days on a wide range of well designs and equipment." They said the system would be designed to work in depths up to 10,000 feet and to contain up to 100,000 barrels (4.2 million gallons) a day.
Rig workers voiced safety concerns
In a confidential survey of workers on the Deepwater Horizon in the weeks before the rig exploded, employees said company plans were not carried out properly and they "often saw unsafe behaviors on the rig."
Some workers also voiced concerns about poor equipment reliability, according to the survey, one of two Transocean reports obtained by the New York Times.
A separate 112-page equipment assessment also commissioned by Transocean, the rig's owner, found many key components — including the blowout preventer rams and failsafe valves — had not been fully inspected since 2000, even though guidelines require its inspection every three to five years.
Alaskan judge halts oil development
ANCHORAGE, Alaska — A federal judge on Wednesday stopped companies from developing oil and gas wells on billions of dollars in leases off Alaska's northwest coast, saying the federal government failed to follow environmental law before it sold the drilling rights.
The lease sale in February 2008 brought in nearly $2.7 billion for the federal government from the sale of 2.76 million acres in the Arctic waters of the Chukchi Sea, including $2.1 billion in high bids submitted by Shell Gulf of Mexico.
U.S. District Judge Ralph Beistline said that the Minerals Management Service failed to analyze the environmental effect of natural gas development despite industry interest and specific lease incentives for such development.
The agency analyzed only the development of the first field of 1 billion barrels of oil.