Monday, August 30, 2010

Risk-Taking Rises as Oil Rigs in Gulf Drill Deeper/ NY Times

Excerpts from today's NY Times:
Yet even as regulators investigate the causes of the Deepwater Horizon disaster, the broader dangers posed by the industry’s push into deeper waters have gone largely unscrutinized.

“Our ability to manage risks hasn’t caught up with our ability to explore and produce in deep water,” said Edward C. Chow, a former industry executive who is now a senior fellow at the Center for Strategic and International Studies...

Underwater, both powerful currents and mudslides play havoc with delicate equipment and the pipelines that bring oil and gas back to shore.

The water temperature, which hovers at just above freezing at depths below 3,000 feet, can harden natural gas into crystallike structures called hydrates that can clog pipelines and other equipment. And because the wells are deeper than human divers can go, oil companies must rely on remote-controlled submarines to maintain their equipment or perform repairs.

Problems are more common than the industry likes to admit...  Hurricanes are a constant menace. Hundreds of offshore platforms and pipelines were destroyed by hurricanes Rita and Katrina in 2005, shutting down the gulf’s entire oil and gas production for weeks. A Shell platform called Mars was badly damaged when its drilling rig tumbled over in Hurricane Katrina, shattering equipment, living quarters and the steel pipes that girdle all facilities. The two pipelines that take Mars’s oil and natural gas to shore were also badly damaged...

Under a $1 billion initiative announced in July, four oil majors — Chevron, ConocoPhillips, Exxon and Shell — said they would design and build equipment that could be used to contain and cap well blowouts at depths of up to 10,000 feet. However, they say the new devices will not be tested and ready for 18 months, and the plan is not likely to work in places outside the gulf, like Alaska, where conditions differ...

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