Near disaster at Cairn Lanka exploration well

Vol 16, PW 17 (21 Mar 13) Exploration & Production

Nothing scares an oil company more than the threat of a blow out like the one that triggered the tragic BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico in 2010.

Cairn India subsidiary Cairn Lanka got a fright last month when it narrowly averted a major disaster at its fourth exploration well in the deep waters off Sri Lanka. Cairn abandoned the well at the 3000-sq km gas discovery block SL-2007-01-001, awarded in July 2008, though it was barely two weeks from 5500 metres TD.

Cairn hired Transocean deepwater drillship Discoverer Seven Seas at $490,000/day to drill the well in water depths of 1069 metres. But last month (February) rig workers were shocked to find the well-head (on the seabed at the mouth of the well under the BOP) had rotated 90 degrees from its original position.

“It’s unusual for a well-head to rotate,” reveals a source. Drilling was immediately suspended and Cairn considered repair but subsequently abandoned the well after spending $40m.

“Cairn was lucky the rotating well head didn't result in an oil spill, gas leak or blow-out,” he adds. The chances of a spill or blow out were high, as two of three exploration wells drilled earlier at this block yielded discoveries.

All service contractors were de-mobilised on February 27. Contacted for comment, a Cairn spokesman referred this report to a press release on February 28, saying the well was plugged and abandoned.