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Basics of the Macondo Prospect

The Macondo Prospect was located offshore, in an area called Mississippi Canyon Block 252, roughly forty miles off the coast of Southeast Louisiana. A prospect is an exploration area where hydrocarbons are predicted in economic quantity. The original plan was to drill two wells, with Macondo being the first. The Macondo Well was exploratory in nature because of the uncertainty about the type and quantity of hydrocarbons present, as well as the effort needed to extract them. And like with any exploratory well, the companies with rights to the block used seismic imaging, nearby analog wells, and other data to gain an understanding of this prospective area in the offshore Gulf of Mexico. If the well proved commercial, more data would be collected to create a production plan; if the well was not a commercial success, data would be gathered to determine why the well did not meet expectations. Ultimately, the Macondo Well proved to have commercial potential.1U.S. Chemical Safety and Hazard investigation Board. (2014, June 5). Investigation Report Volume 1: Explosion and fire at the Macondo Well. https://www.csb.gov/file.aspx?DocumentId=5930

Location of the Macondo Prospect

Location of the Macondo Well

Details of the Deepwater Horizon Rig

The semi-submersible rig used to drill the Macondo well was known as the Deepwater Horizon. The rig was drilling a deep well: The rig was drilling in 5,000 feet of water, and the well was drilled to over 13,000 feet under the seafloor to reach the hydrocarbon reservoir below. The Deepwater Horizon was completed in 2001 by Hyundai Heavy Industries at a cost of approximately $560 million.2Deepwater Horizon. (2021, June 1. In Wikipedia. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Deepwater_Horizon The rig’s BOP was built by Cameron and had been in use since the rig began its service in 2001.3U.S. Chemical Safety and Hazard investigation Board. (2014, June 5). Investigation Report Volume 1: Explosion and fire at the Macondo Well. https://www.csb.gov/file.aspx?DocumentId=5930 The rig was brought to the Gulf of Mexico, where it operated until it sank on April 22, 2010.4Deepwater Horizon. (2021, June 1. In Wikipedia. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Deepwater_Horizon

An Offshore Drilling Rig is a Marine Vessel

The semi-submersible drilling rig Deepwater Horizon is shown at left.

A drilling rig is a marine vessel and the convention when writing the names of specific ships and other marine vessels is to both capitalize and italicize their name.

Crew

By their very nature, offshore rigs like the Deepwater Horizon face unique hazards compared to onshore rigs. For example, on an offshore rig a substantial number of workers occupy a small living and working area, where escape and rescue from a catastrophic event, such as a hazardous chemical release, fire, or explosion, are inherently more difficult due to the offshore location. At the time of the blowout, 126 people representing 13 different companies were on board the rig.5U.S. Chemical Safety and Hazard investigation Board. (2014, June 5). Investigation Report Volume 1: Explosion and fire at the Macondo Well. https://www.csb.gov/file.aspx?DocumentId=5930

Parties Involved

A number of parties were involved in the oil and gas operations at the Macondo Well. Let’s take a look at each one and their responsibilities.

Operator

BP Exploration & Production Inc. (BP) was the main lease holder/operator of the block of land offshore where the Macondo well was being drilled. Offshore lease holder/operators such as BP largely conduct deepwater oil and gas activities through a number of contractors. Effective selection, oversight, and coordination between the operator and its various contractors are critical to safe offshore exploration.6U.S. Chemical Safety and Hazard investigation Board. (2014, June 5). Investigation Report Volume 1: Explosion and fire at the Macondo Well. https://www.csb.gov/file.aspx?DocumentId=5930

Drilling Contractor and Service Providers

To drill the well at Macondo, BP contracted with Transocean, who owned and operated Deepwater Horizon. Transocean was in charge of furnishing and maintaining materials, supplies, equipment, and services required for drilling and completion of the Macondo well. The U.S. Chemical Safety and Hazard Investigation Board cited in their report:  “These services included maintaining well control equipment, which the contract between BP and Transocean stipulated would be done according to good oilfield practices and by ‘all reasonable means to prevent fire and blowouts.’ BP retained control of how various aspects of the drilling program would progress by specifying the completion activities, the mud program, and the casing program.”7U.S. Chemical Safety and Hazard investigation Board. (2014, June 5). Investigation Report Volume 1: Explosion and fire at the Macondo Well. https://www.csb.gov/file.aspx?DocumentId=5930

Halliburton Energy Services and its subsidiary Sperry-Sun Drilling Services provided cementing and well monitoring services to BP during operations at Macondo.8U.S. Chemical Safety and Hazard investigation Board. (2014, June 5). Investigation Report Volume 1: Explosion and fire at the Macondo Well. https://www.csb.gov/file.aspx?DocumentId=5930

Macondo Well responsible parties

Relationship between key companies associated with the Deepwater Horizon accident

United States Offshore Regulator

At the time of the Macondo incident, Minerals Management Service (MMS), a division within the U.S. Department of the Interior, was the primary offshore regulator responsible for overseeing the safe conduct of drilling and completion activities in compliance with current laws and regulations. MMS managed the nation’s natural gas, oil, and other mineral resources on the U.S. Outer Continental Shelf. Its jurisdiction involved developing and implementing plans for leasing conventional (e.g., oil and gas) and renewable (e.g., wind) energy resources, safety and environmental protection in all offshore energy activities, and revenue management. MMS minerals revenue for the United States amounted to approximately $13 billion annually, approximately 95% of the total revenue collected by the Department of the Interior.9U.S. Chemical Safety and Hazard investigation Board. (2014, June 5). Investigation Report Volume 1: Explosion and fire at the Macondo Well. https://www.csb.gov/file.aspx?DocumentId=5930

Outer Continental Shelf areas in the United States

Outer Continental Shelf areas in the United States

It was later concluded that the Deepwater Horizon had received prior citations from the MMS, and not all of the necessary precautions were taken up during BP’s three-year lease prior to the April explosion.10Deepwater Horizon. (2021, June 1. In Wikipedia. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Deepwater_Horizon

Image Credits: U.S. Chemical Safety and Hazard Investigation Board; AP Photo/Transocean; Minerals Management Service

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