NE Scotland, Orkney & Shetland

New oil well-capping device unveiled at Offshore Europe

Animation of cap being lowered into sea
Image caption The aim is that the cap could be deployed in deep and harsh conditions

A new well-capping device, aimed at combating a major oil and gas offshore incident, has been unveiled at Offshore Europe in Aberdeen.

Thousands of people from around the world are expected at Aberdeen Exhibition and Conference Centre for the three-day event.

The new device is to seal off an uncontrolled subsea well.

The Oil Spill Prevention and Response Advisory Group (Osprag) said it was hoped the device would never be needed.

Image caption The new 40-tonne device is to seal off an uncontrolled subsea well

The cap works by shutting in and holding pressure on an uncontrolled well, and it is also claimed it would work in remote, deep and harsh conditions - such as those west of Shetland.

Osprag chair James House said: "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."

Remotely-operated underwater vehicles (ROVs) would be used to deploy the cap, while dispersants would be used in the hope of reducing contamination.

Consultation call

The cap device - set for use at up to 10,000ft deep - is 7m tall and weighs about 40 tonnes.

Campaign group Greenpeace is opposed to deepwater drilling, fearing an environmental disaster if anything went wrong.

Meanwhile, First Minister Alex Salmond has called on the UK government to introduce a period of statutory consultation on proposed changes to the offshore taxation regime.

Chancellor George Osborne raised the supplementary tax on North Sea oil production from 20% to 32%.

The move, in his budget in March, was designed to fund a cut in fuel duty.

A Treasury spokesperson said: "The government is committed to stability and predictability in the tax system.

"Recent announcements by several companies show the North Sea remains an attractive area for new investment, and the UK government will continue to work alongside oil and gas companies to support growth and jobs in the UK."

But Malcolm Webb, chief executive of industry body Oil and Gas UK, warned they could be heading for a "two tier North Sea".

He told BBC Radio 5 Live's Wake Up To Money programme: "We've got some very robust projects that will go ahead, some big projects that will go ahead, but more marginal stuff won't go ahead unless we do something about it.

"That's why we're talking to the Treasury, and we have been ever since the Budget, about what we can do to bring in new reliefs."

Offshore Europe runs until Thursday.

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