The Cost of Deepwater E&P

New Wave Media

September 27, 2010



This cost isn´t only in equipment and manpower, it´s in lives, human and animal and destroyed ecosystems which will take at least a decade to recuperate. Safety must always come first. Even with the most reliable equipment and redundancy, there will always be the human factor. Nothing like a full on environmental tragedy to make for a vital attitude change: Safety first, and then all the profit scene.

We all know now, that there is no infallible safety measure, well not man proof anyway. Pressure seems to be a wee bit of a problem too.
Like the old saying goes: You only knows, when it blows!
Well now we know, don´t we? This is the worst case scenario and it could not be correctly simulated. I´m sure the very best subsea engineers tried, but you know, forces of nature and all, it´s dodgy, it´s just a simulation. Sims and reality don´t always agree.
Down here in the boonies, in Brazil, Petrobras has been playing this dangerous deepwater E&P for a long time, longer than anyone, anywhere. The lessons learned, from the P-36 tragedy and a large list of serious setbacks, have been largely heeded to. Maybe the most important of which is that when the first alarm sounds, drilling or production is stopped and predetermined safety measures are applied, even if that means increasing down time.
Now, Petrobras, like any other player, works for a profit. They always contract the bidder that offers the lowest cost when contracting services or equipment, but according to national and international Petrobras suppliers consulted, Petrobras is always stringent in safety policies and demands.
This is good news, but Petrobras is still a company working for a profit and thus needs to be independently regulated, as do all players involved in O&G exploration and production.
That is where ANP (National Petroleum Agency) comes in. They are the national regulators responsible for maintaining a high level of safeguards regulating O&G exploration. In the wake of the Deepwater Horizon tragedy, ANP has stated it will review safety measures in place concerning deepwater drilling and also deepwater production. ANP is also working along with international O&G regulatory bodies such as the American MMS, Norwegian PSA and British HSE, in order to establish new and higher deepwater E&P safety standards. Presently, the regulatory system applied to deepwater drilling in Brazil is internationally regarded as being of the highest standard, but ANP has asked operators to review their procedures and advise ANP about well control systems now in place, for their analyses. All deepwater drilling and production safety measures will be re-evaluated and upgrades are expected.
Luckily for the player involved in the Brazilian O&G market, there has been no initiative by the Brazilian government to halt deepwater drilling, so players will be able to continue exploration, which is actually happening at a very strong pace in all the major Brazilian subsea sedimentary basins.
If we take a look at the Brazilian coastline facing these basins, at the incredible environmental richness and diversity present along this coastline, it becomes obvious what a major tragedy it would be if we had a blowout and spill of the magnitude that is happening at the GOM right now.
With the high rate of drilling going on in deepwater plays in Brazil, and the knowledge that this rate will not be decreasing anytime soon, it becomes paramount to re-evaluate deepwater drilling safety procedures and develop operational equipment for last ditch containment, like what is being tried by BP. There is no doubt that these desperate measures will teach important lessons for future development of deepwater containment systems.
Researchers, worldwide, will be spending more time on safety issues regarding deepwater subsea systems, in Brazil the technology center at UFRJ, which houses research centers for Petrobras, Halliburton and SLB, including specialized subsea deepwater systems development labs, which will undoubtedly be at the forefront of this research.
Subsea systems such as tress, BOP´s, manifolds and risers used  today are still considered state of the art, safe, reliable and efficient. This is according to what experienced Brazilian and Expat drillers working the Brazilian deepwater effort have said, when consulted. Including two senior drillers, responsible for deepwater drilling ops oversight at different the deepwater plays. This also corroborates what was known about operational deepwater subsea equipment, especially BOP´s, before the accident at the GOM.
The deepwater exploratory deepwater drilling and development of deepwater fields will continue unabated in Brazil, but important safety features are certain to be introduced and the first step will be increasing and enhancing drilling operations oversight by regulatory agencies and a very strict adherence to safe drilling procedures, where shortcuts will not be tolerated.
The Deepwater Horizon tragedy will transform the regulation of deepwater drilling at the GOM, in Brazil, in West Africa, at the NS and worldwide.
Claudio Paschoa
Photo courtesy of Frederico Wilhelm
Paschoa, Claudio
Claudio Paschoa is Marine Technology Reporter's correspondent in Brazil.