The People of America's Oil and Natural Gas Indusry

Capping Stack: A Positive Outcome from a Tragic Accident

Jane Van Ryan

Jane Van Ryan
Posted April 18, 2011

It looks like a child's toy gyroscope on steroids, and it has the technology necessary to stop the flow from a well blowout on the ocean floor. It's the capping stack developed and built by a consortium of oil companies in response to the unprecedented Deepwater Horizon disaster that occurred in the Gulf of Mexico a year ago. The oil spill containment device is 30-feet tall and weighs 100 tons. In the event of an undersea blowout, it would be sent to the nearest port, transported to the well site, and lowered to either kill the well or funnel escaping oil to ships. Although it might never be needed, it is standing by and capable of capturing 60,000 barrels of oil per day from wells up to 8,000 feet below sea level. (Rigzone) Marty Massey, chief executive officer of Marine Well Containment Company (MWCC) which is responsible for the device, says the consortium also is building another capping stack capable of killing a well in more than 10,000 feet of water and collecting 100,000 barrels of oil per day. This updated stack will be ready in mid-2012 and will be stationed along the Gulf Coast.

Due in part to the development of the capping stack, the Department of the Interior (DOI) has begun issuing deepwater drilling permits after a hiatus lasting several months. So far ten deepwater permits have been issued. Under new DOI rules, companies operating in deepwater must prove they have access to the capping stack or a similar technology such as the response system developed by Helix, an offshore services company.

The consortium responsible for designing and building the capping stacks was led by ExxonMobil, Chevron, Shell and ConocoPhillips. Since its founding, BP, Apache, Statoil, BHP Billiton, Anadarko and Hess also have joined the MWCC. Together, they have contributed $1 billion toward the development, construction and the operations of the oil containment system.

The capping stack is only one of many actions taken by the oil and natural gas industry to improve performance and safety since the Deepwater Horizon accident that occurred one year ago. Among a long list of activities aimed at improving performance, the industry created four task forces which examined offshore procedures and equipment, and containment and spill response, issued recommendations, and strengthened its longstanding commitment to safety and the environment.

The industry takes seriously its role in supplying energy to America, and it works hard to protect the environment and its workers. Last year eleven workers were killed in one of the most tragic oil industry accidents on record. They will not be forgotten, and the lessons learned continue to improve offshore operations.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Jane Van Ryan was formerly senior communications manager and new media advisor at the American Petroleum Institute (API), where she wrote blog posts and produced podcasts and videos. Before coming to API, Jane managed communications for a large science and engineering corporation, and for a top-tier research and engineering university. A few years ago, you might have seen her in your living room when she delivered the news on television. Jane officially retired from API in 2011 and now freelances as an independent communications consultant when not gardening at her farm in Virginia.