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Top Hat
Operations to cap the Deepwater Horizon oil spill required cutting-edge fire protection from two leading companies
Vol. 26 Summer

An oil slick that spread across thousands of miles of the Gulf of Mexico in April 2010 drew upon two of the leading names in industrial fire protection — Williams Fire & Hazard Control and Wild Well Control.

A June 25 email from David Moody, manager of well control operations for Wild Well Control, established the timeline of events that brought the two companies together.

“I want to take this time to personally thank Joe Bowden (Wild Well Control’s senior well control specialist) and his team and Chauncey Naylor (Williams F&HC’s lead firefighter) and his teams for the hard work and professionalism they have shown since day one,” Moody wrote.

On April 20, methane gas from the exploratory well designated MC-252 rose up the 5,000-foot drill column to an offshore drilling rig known as Deepwater Horizon. The gas ignited, engulfing the platform in flames. The rig then sank, triggering the largest oil spill in U.S. history.

After unsuccessful attempts to cap the well using underwater vehicles, Wild Well Control and Williams F&HC were called in to establish external fire fighting (FIFI) systems on two 350-foot long construction vessels assigned to support two deepwater drilling rigs drilling relief wells, Moody wrote.

“Early on it was apparent that this would not be the only operation (the companies) would be involved in,” Moody wrote. The companies eventually took charge of external fire fighting on two 250-foot supply vessels as well.

As a short cut to the extended period that drilling relief wells would require, officials decided to attempt a “top kill” procedure, pumping heavyweight drilling mud into the well to stop the flow of oil and gas. When this failed, the drillship Discoverer Enterprise, moved into position in early May to install a “top hat,” a 125-ton dome lowered over the leaking well to pipe the oil to the surface.

The system collected 15,000 barrels per day of oil. In turn, more than 35 Mcf of natural gas (each unit equals 1,000 cubic feet) per day was flared.

“During this time, it was decided that two additional FIFI vessels would be needed to handle (fire fighting) responsibilities and to suppress VOC (volatile organic compounds) levels in the 500 meter ‘hot zone’ surrounding the Discoverer Enterprise,” Moody wrote.

Naylor and other Williams F&HC personnel “virtually jumped through hoops” to install the equipment needed and obtain the personnel to maintain operations on a 24/7 basis, Moody wrote.

“Numerous times the client would inadvertently throw hurdles and roadblocks, but Chauncey and his team never wavered,” Moody wrote. “Each and every time they would take these challenges on and see them through to the end.”

Another drillship, the Q4000, was outfitted with production flow back equipment and tied into the manifold atop the well. By late June, the Q4000 was flaring more than 10,000 bpd of oil and 18 Mcf per day of natural gas. Although the Q4000 had a deluge system installed to suppress radiant heat from flaring gas and oil, the Q4000 had never been involved an operation of this type before.

“Early on, the Q4000 personnel were understandably nervous about these type of operations on their vessel and demanded two FIFI vessels to constantly supply a water curtain to ensure (the Q4000) would not have radiant heat issues,” Moody wrote.

The Williams F&HC team “never batted an eye” when faced with the new challenge, he wrote. Despite temperature readings exceeding 200 degrees Fahrenheit on their vessels, they supplied the Q4000 with the extra protection desired.

“Time and time again, the captain and personnel on the Q4000 were advised that the deluge system in place was doing the job (as) intended,” Moody wrote. “In fact, there were substantially higher readings on the other side of the Q4000 than by the flare line.”

However, the Q4000 crew asked for even more coverage for flaring operations. The decision was made for Wild Well Control and Williams F&HC to install equipment directly on the hull of the Q4000, providing a better position. Williams F&HC Daspit Tools, a portable monitor with a five-inch waterway and a tank frame clamp, were tied into the Q4000’s manifold.

The equipment proved so effective that the Q4000 no longer required a water curtain from a separate FIFI vessel, Moody wrote.

“It was understood early on in the flaring operations that the success of long term flaring operations was to have the Q4000 and the Enterprise be self-sufficient,” Moody wrote. “This would also enable the FIFI vessels to assist in the operations that they were originally tasked to do.”

During almost three months of attempts to cap the leaking well while drilling relief wells, Williams F&HC also provided vapor mitigation for several other ships that conducted multiple operations using remotely operated undersea vehicles. Vessels staffed by Williams F&HC and Wild Well Control were two of only four smaller vessels authorized to operate in the MC-252 field during this period.

At the height of the MC-252 response, Williams F&HC brought to bear equipment capable of a total 12,000 gallons per minute. Included among the equipment were five 6,000 gallons per minute pumps, one 4,000 gpm pump, five Ambassador 1X6 Guns, three Ranger 3 Guns, 10 265-gallon totes of ThunderStorm ATC 1X3  on the two construction vessels and 20 265-gallon totes on the supply vessels. Each of the four vessels had 1,000 gallons of dispersant available with a mini Daspit mounted to self-educt 350 gpm at one percent on heavy concentrations of crude.

The vessel operated by Wild Well Control used two Ranger 3 nozzles and two Ranger 1.5s.

MC-252 has been successfully shut-in since July 2010, thanks to the latest variation on the top hat well-capping structure. Relief wells permanently sealed the well in mid-September 2010.  

 
 

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