THE International Association of Drilling Contractors (IADC) wants a reprieve for drilling operations in the shallow waters of the US Gulf of Mexico. All new drilling in the US Gulf is under a Washington interdiction scheduled to last several weeks due to concerns about why the rig, Deepwater Horizon, caught fire and sank following a drilling-related incident on a BP-operated exploration well.
IADC says it believes that prohibiting new drilling in water depths of less than 305m (1,000ft) that use blowout preventers located above the sea surface will lead to the pointless loss of thousands of jobs and could spur business insolvencies.
The drilling contractors’ organisation is seeking an exemption from the drilling ban for this type of operation, as well as a clarification of the rule.
“The current spill in the Gulf of Mexico was caused by an operation in 5,000ft (1,525m) of water using blowout preventers on the seabed,” said Dr Lee Hunt, president of IADC.
“In contrast, drilling in less than 1,000ft of water using blowout preventers above the sea surface is very different. To ban this type of drilling is unnecessary, either to protect human safety or the environment.”
Dr Hunt noted numerous differences between shallow-water and deepwater operations.
First, while deepwater operations primarily explore and develop oil resources, in shallow water, the resource is primarily natural gas.
Second, oil remaining in shallow-water reservoirs has largely been produced and is under-pressured, limiting its ability to spew out of control.
In addition, in shallow water, the seabed can be much more easily accessed for intervention by remote craft and even divers.
Further, temperatures in shallow water are much warmer than in deep water, forestalling the formation of crystallised gas hydrates.
Typically, wells drilled by jack-up rigs in shallow water take 15-40 days.
Should the current ban continue through July 1, IADC estimates that some 60% of Gulf of Mexico rigs could be lying idle and their crews potentially out of work.
“Not only will this present problems for sustained energy supply, it could economically devastate hard-working offshore employees and the economies of coastal Louisiana parishes,” Dr Hunt warned.
“It is important not to overreact.”