Osprag Reveals New Oil Well-Capping Device at Offshore Europe 2011 (UK)


A major piece of new equipment, designed to be a key element of the UK offshore oil and gas industry’s oil spill response capability, has been constructed, tested and is available for deployment. The capping device is to be revealed today (6 September) by Energy Minister, Charles Hendry MP, at the SPE Offshore Europe 2011 conference in Aberdeen.

The well capping device was built in order to seal off an uncontrolled subsea well in the unlikely event of a major well control incident, minimising environmental damage and buying valuable time for engineers to develop a permanent solution to seal the well.

The cap works by shutting in and holding pressure on an uncontrolled well and uses a choke and a series of valves which close down and stop the flow of hydrocarbons into the marine environment.

The device was constructed specifically for subsea wells in the United Kingdom Continental Shelf (UKCS). Its modular design means it can be attached to various points of subsea equipment and deployed to the widest possible range of subsea well types and oil spill scenarios which could occur – including in the deep waters and harsh conditions west of Shetland.

The cap is rated for deployment in water depths up to 10,000ft on wells flowing up to 75,000 barrels per day at 15,000 psi. This is a much greater depth than any of the deepest wells in the UKCS.

Its portable size and weight also makes it relatively easy to deploy quickly from a wide range of vessels, even during short weather windows.

The capping device was designed and manufactured over a period of only seven months – an extraordinary feat given the complexity and uniqueness of the required functionality and design requirements. This was achieved through access to pre-existing equipment systems, a streamlined project management approach and close collaboration with the industry’s global supply chain.

The device has now successfully completed stringent factory acceptance and system integration testing and will be handed over to Oil Spill Response Limited, who will store it in readiness at an operational base in the north east of Scotland with the appropriate deployment capabilities in the unlikely event it should ever be called upon.

Charles Hendry, Minister of State for Energy said: “I am delighted to unveil this significant piece of equipment which will serve as a major step forward in the UK’s response capability.

Having this equipment ready to deploy in the UKCS significantly enhances our ability to deal with any incident should any occur in the basin. Prevention is always the best course however, which is why we strive for the best regulation and procedures in any basin anywhere in the world”.

James L. House, chair of OSPRAG and regional vice president and managing director of Apache North Sea Ltd, said: “I’m pleased to say that the successful completion and availability of this cap marks a significant step forward in industry preparedness and significantly bolsters our capability to deal with a major loss of well control.

Despite the fact that there has not been a major loss of well control in the UK in over 20 years of offshore operations, we believe that having such a contingency device here in the UK is essential, as it allows a quick response no matter how unlikely a scenario this is.

Our long-term focus remains, however, to prevent such incidents from occurring in the first place and the cap complements other work being carried out by OSPRAG in spill prevention. OSPRAG’s work demonstrates the industry’s determination to learn from experience and continuously improve the safety of operations so that risks to people and the environment are minimised or eliminated.”

 Archie Smith, chief executive of Oil Spill Response Limited, said: “Oil Spill Response Limited is pleased to take possession of the well capping device – an important piece of equipment which would minimise marine pollution should a major loss of well control ever occur subsea in UK waters.

“The cap will be held on standby and will form part of our suite of response measures which have kept us at the forefront of oil spill response services for 25 years.”

The decision to construct the cap came as a result of a recommendation by the Oil Spill Prevention and Response Advisory Group (OSPRAG), the body set up by the industry, its regulators and trade unions immediately following the incident in the Gulf of Mexico in April 2010.

The vast majority of UKCS operators participated in the development of the device following focused discussion and collaboration. There was overriding agreement on the need to deliver this additional piece of assurance as soon as possible.

The design development was overseen by OSPRAG’s Technical Review Group, working with BP, which agreed to project manage the detailed design, procurement and construction phases, with support from engineering services firm Wood Group Kenny. The device was commissioned by the industry’s specialist organisation, Oil Spill Response Limited, and was built by Cameron Ltd in Leeds.

Capping device key facts

It can quickly be deployed:

• At the widest possible range of wells and oil spill scenarios which could occur in the UKCS, including West of Shetland

• To various points of the subsea stack

• At water depths of between 100m and 3,048m (328ft to 10,000ft)

• In wave heights of up to 5m (16ft) depending on the vessel/rig used

• From a wide variety of multi-service vessels or drilling rigs

• To wells flowing up to 1,034 bar (15,000 psi) in pressure and 121°C (250°F) in temperature

• Even where there is a high content of hydrogen sulphide present

• On to a well flowing up to 75,000 barrels a day


• Length – 4.26m

• Width – 3.97m

• Height – 7.14m (can be adjusted for transportation)

• Footprint – 15.8m² if frame fully plated

• Weight – approximately 40 tonnes

Source: oilandgasuk, September 06, 2011;