Safety First in Growing Rig Removal

Wednesday, May 14, 2014 @ 11:05 AM gHale

There is a big push to dismantle abandoned oil and gas infrastructure in the Gulf of Mexico, which has created a $2.5-billion market for companies that supply the heavy lift boats and other salvage or demolition equipment. That means there is keen eye on safety and cost.

New tools are now allowing companies to minimize the risk of decommissioning old offshore platforms while saving money, said Don Stelling, president of Chevron Environmental Management Co., at an Offshore Technology Conference (OTC) session Wednesday.

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The company, for example, partnered with Houston-based Versabar to create the Claw, a 10-story high floating platform that can lift a 10,000-ton topside off the seafloor. The equipment, by lifting larger pieces, significantly reduces the amount of time divers spend in water during salvage operations, Stelling said.

“The goal wasn’t to be cheaper, but to be safer,” he said. “But we found it saved us money because we minimized the lifts.”

Chevron also is employing automated vehicles to produce clearer pictures of submerged structures before sending divers into the water. And the company is using hydraulic shears to cut metal without needing divers or explosives.

Alan Stokes, global decommissioning manager for Worley Parsons, said companies don’t need heavy lifting equipment to reduce costs. In the future, operators should consider decommissioning when designing platforms. Also, standardized designs can reduce removal costs by 10 percent.

Oil and gas companies and regulators began to look closely at idle wells and platforms in 2002, and the focus intensified after a string of hurricanes swept the Gulf starting in 2004. The powerful storms toppled several platforms, and the industry realized it costs significantly more to plug a well without a platform than one still easily accessible.

Federal rules require oil and gas companies operating in the Gulf to remove platforms that have not seen use for at least five years and are no longer considered profitable. With some 250 removals a year, the rate of retirements is exceeding new installations in the Gulf, officials said.

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