GE Oil & Gas displayed its new blind-shear ram, which is capable of cutting components older blowout preventers could not, at the 2012 Offshore Technology Conference.

Blowout preventers (BOPs) have become a constant concern. Periodic certifications of the equipment and maintenance used to be enough to ensure that this last line of defense would perform if needed. Now, users are constantly “wanting to know, is it ready?” said Chuck Chauviere, the general manager for drilling systems for GE Oil & Gas.

The question can be asked many ways. Is the BOP capable of cutting the pipe or connectors and sealing a blowout? Are the electrical and hydraulics systems working properly? Is the crew trained to quickly make the right decisions in an emergency? Will backup power and communications systems perform under extreme circumstances?

Much has changed in the 2 years since the Macondo disaster in which 11 people died; but, the process is far from over. A rewrite of the American Petroleum Institute (API) guidelines for BOP operations and maintenance, API 53: Recommended Practices for Blowout Prevention Equipment Systems for Drilling Wells, was going through another round of revisions in mid-summer and could be published late in the year, said Roland Goodman, manager of upstream standards at API. The guidelines provide details needed to make changes in the sections of API 16 that cover BOP construction, testing, and recertification.

In May, the Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement (BSEE) kicked off a push to write the first US BOP regulation with a hearing in Washington. Industry representatives got a taste of what is ahead when David Hayes, deputy secretary of the US Department of the Interior, said, “There are at least four things we are looking for in a new proposed rule:

“One, BOPs need to be able to cut whatever is in their way and completely seal off the well.

“No. 2, better maintenance for BOPs, like what you would expect of a jet engine or any other very sophisticated mechanical device upon which lives depend.

“No. 3, BOPs need better sensors to tell us what is happening at the bottom of the sea.

“No. 4, everyone working with BOPs should be fully and properly trained to handle any contingency.”

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