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US Regulators Hold Unannounced Spill Drill At Petrobras Gulf Platform

20 September 2011

US regulators said Monday they conducted a partial oil spill drill at Brazil's Petroleos Brasileiro SA (PBR), or Petrobras, operations in the Gulf of Mexico, to test its ability to react to a hypothetical blowout at one of its deepwater subsea wells.

"The preliminary results of the drill were positive," the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, Regulation and Enforcement said in a press release. The agency regulates offshore oil-and-gas drilling in U.S. waters.

The test, which was unannounced and took place last week, was hypothetical and didn't required the deployment of a containment system or any other type of equipment, a spokeswoman for the agency said.

The exercise specifically tested Petrobras' ability to assess a subsea well control incident and mobilize the proper subsea containment and intervention equipment in a timely manner, the agency said.

Petrobras didn't immediately respond to a request for comment.

Regulators said the selection of an operator to participate in an unannounced drill is based on factors such as the number of oil producing facilities, the volume of oil production, and proximity to sensitive areas. With an eye to the operator's current activities, a location is chosen and a spill scenario is developed. Fictitious weather conditions provided to the operator during the drill are used to produce a hypothetical trajectory of the spill, the agency said.

The drill tests Petrobras' ability to notify the appropriate entities and personnel, including federal regulatory agencies, affected state and local agencies, internal response coordinators and response contractors. It also tests an operator's ability to make correct and timely decisions, respond properly, and take appropriate action, the agency said.

Unannounced spill drills have been conducted by federal regulators since 1989, but last week's drill on Petrobras' operation was the first one to test a subsea-contaiment response in the wake of last year's Deepwater Horizon oil spill, according to the agency.

The U.S. government has strengthened regulations for energy companies operating in the Gulf of Mexico after a rig leased by U.K. energy company BP PLC (BP, BP.LN) exploded and sank in April of last year, killing 11 workers and unleashing the worst offshore oil spill in U.S. history.

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