Efficient Capping Stack Testing for Reduced Response Time

May 04, 2023

Marine Well Containment Company and Helix Well Containment Group (MWCC and HWCG) are skilled in maintaining and developing capping stacks. IPT partners with these consortiums to validate the capping stack integrity prior to deployment to prevent oil leaks. IPT provides rapid, efficient, and transparent capping stack testing that reduces testing time and ensures reliable deployment. Pressure tests can be viewed from anywhere with IPT’s cloud-based application creating transparency for operators, contractors, and regulators alike.

What are capping stacks used for? 

A capping stack is a device used to control the flow of oil and gas from a well in the event of an emergency or unplanned release of hydrocarbons.

The capping stack can be placed on top of a wellhead. The capping stack contains a number of valves and control systems that can be operated remotely to shut off the flow of oil and gas. 

In the event of a well blowout or other emergency, a capping stack can be deployed to contain the release of hydrocarbons and prevent further damage to the environment. 

Since the Deepwater Horizon Incident in 2010, regulations have been put in place to require the availability of capping stacks as a response measure in case of a catastrophic incident. 

The Development of Capping Stacks 

Capping stacks have been developed with advancements in technology and increased awareness of the importance of well control and blowout prevention. 

However, the use of capping stacks gained significant attention following the Deepwater Horizon oil spill in 2010. The spill was one of the worst environmental disasters in history, sending millions of barrels of oil into the Gulf of Mexico. The spill continued for 87 days before the well was finally capped. 

In response to the Deepwater Horizon incident, the oil and gas industry, government agencies, and regulators placed increased emphasis on well control and blowout prevention. The first subsea capping stack was deployed in 2011, as a response to the Deepwater Horizon oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico. The capping stack was designed and built by a consortium of oil and gas companies, including ExxonMobil, Chevron, ConocoPhillips, Shell, and BP, along with service companies, mainly Trendsetter Engineering, through a working partnership with the US government. 

The subsea capping stack was specifically designed to be deployed in deepwater environments, where traditional capping stacks were not effective. The device was capable of withstanding high pressures and temperatures and could be deployed using remotely operated vehicles (ROVs). 

The subsea capping stack was tested and validated in a series of simulated blowout scenarios before being deployed to the site of the Deepwater Horizon incident. The device was successfully used to cap the well, bringing the oil spill under control after 87 days of uncontrolled release. 

Since then, subsea capping stacks have become a required component of offshore drilling operations, with regulations mandating their availability in case of emergencies. The development and deployment of subsea capping stacks have improved the ability to respond to well blowouts and other emergencies, minimizing the impact on the environment and human life. 

The US Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement (BSEE) published new regulations in 2016 that require operators of offshore drilling operations in US waters to have access to well capping systems capable of controlling the flow of hydrocarbons in the event of a blowout. These regulations have led to increased development and deployment of capping stacks.  

How Capping Stacks Are Maintained and Deployed in Response to an Incident

There are now over a dozen capping stacks spread geographically across areas ready to be deployed at a moment’s notice. The two Gulf of Mexico consortiums, Marine Well Containment Company and Helix Well Containment Group are comprised of highly skilled employees, engineers and contractors that maintain and develop capping stacks to be deployed at a moment’s notice. 

Integrity Testing for Capping Stacks  

In any emergency situation, rapid response is critical to minimizing the impact of an incident. Great emphasis is placed on preparedness and response planning, including the pre-positioning of equipment and the training of personnel in well control and emergency response procedures. Not all well containment scenarios are the same, and many factors could influence the necessary response. If a capping stack is needed, it must be tested prior to deploying subsea. This includes a pressure test to validate the integrity of the capping stack to prevent an oil leak. IPT provides well integrity assurance through the use of advanced algorithms to detect leaks. This is applied on capping stacks to determine the integrity of the capping stack prior to deployment. IPT provides clear and actionable results in real time that can be broadcasted on IPT’s cloud-based application to anyone in the world. 

Efficient Pressure Testing for Capping Stacks 

IPT provides pressure testing assurance with the use of Thermally Compensated Leak Detection (TCLD) analysis which compares the natural thermal pressure decay to determine if there is a leak. IPT’s TCLD provides more efficient pressure testing of capping stacks. Prior to March 2023, Trendsetter Engineering was relying on the traditional method of pressure testing, however IPT worked with Trendsetter to create a pressure test procedure with TCLD. As a result, IPT was able to reduce the amount of time on pressure by two hours. This time savings also aided maintenance operations where pressure testing went from taking two days to only one. 

Because Capping Stacks are pressure tested prior to deployment, every minute counts in reducing the harm to the environment. 

As an industry we strive for our commitment to protecting personnel and the environment, we hope to never need to use a capping stack to stop an oil spill but are prepared to deploy one at a moment’s notice and have made large strides in reducing the response time. IPT has assisted MWCC & HWCG in reducing the time required testing capping stacks and providing an industry leading integrity assurance. 

Transparent Pressure Testing 

Pressure test may be broadcasted through IPT’s cloud base application. Consortium members and regulators alike are able to witness the capping stack testing in real time, anywhere in the world. This creates transparency where operators, contractors and regulators can witness and collaborate during testing in real-time regardless of their location.  

IPT collaborates with the consortium through the use of onshore maintenance testing and system integration testing prior to the deepwater deployment drill. IPT draws on extensive industry experience to advise on testing criteria for this unique type of well control equipment.  

Reliable Capping Stack Testing Solutions

IPT is proud of working in the oil and gas industry to help demonstrate the confidence a capping stack can be reliably deployed, and integrity tested using IPT’s software. Contact us to learn more about our capping stack testing capabilities. 

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