Oil Spill Containment in the Spotlight

What's it going to take to prevent another disastrous oil spill in the Gulf? That's a difficult question that industry professionals and regulators are wrestling with daily.

On Monday, the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, Regulation, and Enforcement issued an 18-page document (PDF) seeking to clarify some of the new regulatory requirements imposed following the BP (NYSE: BP  ) spill and subsequent deepwater drilling moratorium. In the release, the BOEMRE covers a few areas, including worst case discharge calculations, oil spill response plans, and blowout prevention equipment testing. The commentary on OSRPs is most interesting.

The main deficiency the regulators are seeing in these spill response plans is their "lack of sufficient subsea containment equipment and other resources." Operators need to demonstrate that they have access to sufficient containment resources, which isn't the easiest thing to do, considering that the next-generation containment system being developed by ExxonMobil (NYSE: XOM  ) , ConocoPhillips (NYSE: COP  ) and others doesn't exist yet.

Of course, there is existing equipment such as was used to contain the Macondo spill. Helix Energy Solutions Group (NYSE: HLX  ) , for example, is taking three vessels that all proved useful in battling the BP blowout, and assembling them into a comprehensive Deepwater Containment System. Helix says it's "in advanced discussions with an industry group to provide the DCS on a retainer basis." One of Apache's (NYSE: APA  ) higher-ups has stated that his company is likely to employ Helix's system.

The prospect of Helix getting paid simply to have its containment system available is an interesting prospect. You can't get much better margins than that. I also imagine operators will be willing to pay a pretty chunky sum for the retainer, given how eager they are to secure drilling permits and get back to drilling in the Gulf. This piece of business may not in itself recommend a purchase of Helix shares, but existing shareholders should be cheered by the development.

Check out our recent coverage of the offshore drilling scene:

Fool contributor Toby Shute doesn't have a position in any company mentioned. Check out his CAPS profile or follow his articles using Twitter or RSS. We Fools may not all hold the same opinions, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors. The Fool owns shares of ExxonMobil. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.


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