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Gulf oil spill: Oil companies to form emergency response system for future disasters

July 21, 2010 |  6:23 pm

Four of the world’s biggest oil companies are expected to announce Thursday the formation of a rapid-deployment response system that will be made available to capture and contain future deep-water well blowouts, according to a document detailing the proposal.

The announcement from Exxon Mobil, ConocoPhillips, Chevron Corp. and Royal Dutch Shell did not specifically mention BP or the oil rig explosion and disaster in the gulf that has become the biggest offshore oil disaster in U.S. history.

But the clear implication was that the industry had a need to demonstrate that it would have emergency equipment in place along with trained personnel who would be ready to move within 24 hours of an accident.

"The oil and gas industry has long been recognized as a technological leader, and the American public expects us to improve our ability to respond immediately to offshore incidents,"  Jim Mulva, ConocoPhillips chairman and chief executive, said in a statement. "The creation and development of this sophisticated system will greatly enhance industry's ability to ensure a quick and effective response."

Among the biggest criticisms of BP’s performance in attempting to close off its crippled well was that it had no plans or equipment designed to handle such an emergency and was forced to attack the spill with trial-and-error techniques.

Representatives of the four companies said that it was important to try to restore confidence in the oil industry’s ability to respond quickly and to work together in the future. The companies said that they were putting $1 billion into the effort, to start.

"Chevron knows that it can only operate with the public’s confidence that the energy we need will be produced safely and reliably," John Watson, chairman and chief executive of Chevron, said in a statement. "We are committed to advancing safe operations through enhanced prevention, better well containment and intervention and improved spill response. This new system significantly enhances the industry’s ability to effectively respond to any unforeseen incidents."

The companies also will announce that they would form a nonprofit organization, the Marine Well Containment Co., that would operate and maintain the emergency response system. The companies also said that other members of the oil industry would be invited to participate. The executives said that the system could be in place in future disasters within two or three weeks at the latest.

The system “will include specially designed sub-sea containment equipment connected by manifolds, jumpers and risers to capture vessels that will store and offload the oil. Dedicated crews will ensure regular maintenance, inspection and readiness of the facilities and sub-sea equipment,” the companies said in a statement. Federal officials and some members of Congress have already been briefed on the new plan, the executives said.

The system they described did not exist before the BP spill and was not available for use in the current disaster, the executives said, because it had only been devised by engineers in the last month. But they added that the emergency equipment wouldn’t need to be used if proper well standards are being followed.

"If we all do our jobs properly, this system will never be used,"  Rex Tillerson, chairman and chief executive of ExxonMobil, said in a statement. "The extensive experience of industry shows that when the focus remains on safe operations and risk management, tragic incidents like the one we are witnessing in the Gulf of Mexico today should not occur."

-- Ronald D. White
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