Safely opening up energy resources several kilometres below the ocean’s surface poses technical challenges due to immense water pressure and freezing temperatures. To ensure safety in our operations, it is important to leverage the expertise of the industry, develop state-of-the-art technology, monitor wells in real-time, and employ and train the best people to do the job.
Pooling our resources and expertise
We co-founded a non-profit consortium with eight other oil and gas companies to enhance drilling safety and minimise the environmental impact of a potential underwater well incident. Called the Subsea Response project, the consortium has pooled their expertise and resources to develop equipment which can be, in the unlikely event of an incident, quickly deployed. Equipment includes capping systems which can seal a well at a depth of up to 3,000 metres (9,800 feet), along with dispersant and containment equipment. The consortium is supported by Oil Spill Response Limited, the world’s leading oil spill response organisation, which is making the equipment widely available.
Shell, and three other oil and gas companies, also founded the Marine Well Containment Company (MWCC) to provide another multi-faceted, rapid-response system for deep-water fields in the US Gulf of Mexico.
As an example, the MWCC lowered a seven-metre tall capping-stack more than 2,000 metres (over 6,500 feet) below the water’s surface and onto a well to demonstrate its capability. Shell volunteered to perform the drill, working closely with federal regulators, which successfully demonstrated the industry’s ability to respond to a well-control incident. The MWCC now has 10 member companies.
From well construction to daily operations, we monitor deep-water wells in real time using advanced sensors. In New Orleans, a team of around 15 engineers and other offshore technical specialists monitor nearly 300 wells and more than 10 production platforms and vessels in the Gulf of Mexico and off the coast of Brazil. Advanced computer programmes sift through more than half a billion pieces of information – including details of pressure, temperature, oil and gas flow rate and power consumption – and run 180,000 checks each day.
This allows engineers and geologists to continuously assess conditions, identify potential risks and respond immediately, while in consultation with the drilling rig or platform crew. In the unlikely event of an incident, our underwater wells can be “capped” (sealed) and the flow can be controlled, either by shutting in the well or re-directing and containing the oil flow.
Designing, drilling, operating and maintaining wells is a demanding job, and safety is critical.
Our engineers must complete a four-year training programme, in addition to their bachelor’s or master’s degree. The training includes detailed modules on safety, deep-water drilling and simulation of well control incidents.
Shell owns state-of-the-art training facilities with drilling simulators and introduced the world’s first well intervention simulator and interactive wireline simulators, which allow trainees to practice risk management in a safe environment. Much like flight simulators, these simulators reproduce the visual and auditory experience of controlling an offshore drilling operation.
Our training centres in Rijswijk (Netherlands), Miri (Malaysia), and Louisiana (U.S.) as well as the learning centre in Muscat (Oman), with our joint-venture partner Petroleum Development of Oman, each offer a simulator room.