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Wednesday, 26 April 2017 18:00

Safe performance of oil and gas operations is more than the priority - Total Featured

 Caspian Energy (CE): Mr. Lemarchal, safe performance of offshore operations in the Caspian Sea is one of the most urgent issues today. What do you think about the accident at Gunashli in 2015? Could it have been prevented anyhow and do you see any positive changes for the two years?

Denis Lemarchal, Managing Director and Chief Representative Total in Azerbaijan: It was a tragedy and I do not have the details about how this accident happened. I know the consequences and the fatalities, but I cannot provide you with an extensive comment.

You cannot comment an accident without knowing the sequence, without the detailed analysis of root causes. But, the press recently commented that due to  threat of a high wind, the staff working on the platforms is now temporarily minimized and only the  people strictly required for operations are kept on the site.

Unfortunately,” zero risk” does not exist. But our duty is to anticipate as much as possible by performing risk analysis and taking into account the lessons learnt from incidents, near-misses…..

I can add that within Total, safety is a core value. It is more than a priority. It is a part of our business.


CE: What kind of technology does the world have to prevent such accidents?

Denis Lemarchal: One way to limit release of gas to atmosphere when facing a pipeline failure is to install at the inlet of the platform some shutdown valves with automatic closure in case of emergency. As regards the emergency evacuation, platforms are equipped with lifeboats which can resist to fire during evacuation.


When you properly address the three Ps’ (“People”, “Plant”, “Procedure”), you are prepared to avoid accidents


CE: What technology and approach does Total have today to prevent accidents?

Denis Lemarchal: Our general approach to safety is our “3 P” focus: P - for plant, we have to ensure the integrity of the facilities and equipment; P - for people, we need to have skilled people and P – for the procedures, we need to have adapted procedures (integrating results of risk analysis, lessons learnt…) .. With this approach, normally you are prepared to avoid accidents. But any activity involves risks even our approach is to anticipate and mitigate risks by acting on these three axes.

A very important point is the quality of drilling operations because this is a specific source of risk, which is especially important especially when drilling in a high-pressure reservoir.


CE: Is Macondo similar to the accident at Gunashli?

Denis Lemarchal: No, it is not. No. The accident at Macondo was related to the drilling operations, while Gunashli problems were related to the surface facilities. A pipeline was broken during a storm.


Safety is a part of the package.It is not something we inject at the end.


CE: But consequences were the same…

Denis Lemarchal: Unfortunately, for both accidents, there were several fatalities. In Macondo, 11 people died. At Gunashli the number of fatalities was 32.

The three Ps focus is applicable anytime, anywhere even if for these 2 cases, the technical frames are not similar: technologies and procedures to ensure the integrity of the platform and the pipeline are different to those related to drilling operations. But the mindset is the same.

After the accident at Macondo, the whole industry, not only Total, took some measures in terms of drilling operations.


CE: How does Company assess the risks of occurrence of such an emergency situation?

Denis Lemarchal: Even if all the measures are taken to avoid such a situation, an emergency response plan is being prepared to face it, should it happen: one Blow-Out Contingency Plan and one Oil Spill Contingency Plan are being prepared; both evaluate the actions to be taken in case of emergency, and many preparation actions will be achieved before spud of the drilling campaign: location of  rig to drill relief wells, including locations of anchors and associate sea bed surveys, location and preparation of mobilization of capping stacks, location of dispersants stocks, etc.

Last year during O&G conference in Baku, one of our Environment experts did present a drill realized in Gulf of Guinea, which gave an idea of the preparedness to emergency situation maintained by TOTAL.


CE: Mr. Lemarchal, after Macondo the standard mitigation approach currently envisages drilling of one relief well and installation of a cap over an uncontrolled well. Is it foreseen by the Total’s plan at Absheron?

Denis Lemarchal:  Since Macondo event, O&G industry has considerably reinforced the procedures to prevent a new subsea blow-out. Furthermore, Total has developed procedures even more stringent, which will be very strictly applied during the drilling campaign (one example amongst many: a shear test in real conditions of the BOP will be performed). In other hand we develop some tools to cap the wells in case of blow out. We are also improving permanently our intervention tools. Anyhow, the ultimate mitigation measures in case of blowout have always been the drilling of a relief well and/or installation of a capping device.


CE: How much out of its budget does the Company spend on safety and environmental performance?

Denis Lemarchal:  We are investing a lot to ensure safe operation and efficiency. However, when we do investment, we do not split between production and safety/environment. Safety is a core value. When we design a facility, we design it in a safe way, respecting environment. Then, we develop procedures and train people to maintain high HSE standards during operations.

I cannot then tell you if it is 30%, 50% or more of the global investment as it is a whole.


CE: Which stage has the Absheron project reached?

Denis Lemarchal: We submitted the development program in November 2016, and the program was approved by the state on March 1st, 2017. Now we are in the development phase. We are preparing the first development phase targeting production start-up by end 2019.


We target starting drilling operations in September  2017

CE: What are the main aspects of the program on exploration and initial development of the field?

Denis Lemarchal: We are starting the development phase. The first development phase is a fast track development. That is why we target production at the end of 2019. This first phase will be simple. We will drill a subsea well at a water depth of 450 meters. And we will tie-back this well to the existing facility at the Oil Rocks (Neft Dashlary) operated by SOCAR. There we will build a platform to receive high-pressure gas and condensate and then connect it to the Oil Rocks existing facility.

 We target starting drilling operations in September  2017.


CE: What will be the peak production?             

Denis Lemarchal: The first phase envisages 1.5 billion cubic meters. After, we are targeting 5-6bcm per year for the second phase which is the peak production for Absheron.


CE: How many years will this peak production be maintained?

Denis Lemarchal: About 10 years.


CE: Where will produced gas go?

Denis Lemarchal: The first phase is dedicated to the domestic market. It is not yet decided for the second phase.


The first gas from Absheron is for the domestic market


CE: Will it be at a market price?

Denis Lemarchal: The price will be compatible with the domestic price.


CE: Do you plan to export gas from Absheron?

Denis Lemarchal: As I have said, the first gas is for the domestic market. Then we will have some other development phases. And it is not yet decided if it will be still for the domestic market or for export. It depends on many factors. We have the plans to develop further, but a marketing plan is still to be defined together with SOCAR, with our partners and also with the state.



CE: Do you have plans to use the subsea production technologies without surface platforms in the Absheron project?

Denis Lemarchal: We are using them. Total is one of the leaders of subsea production. We have the extensive experience of working in deepwater areas, in particular in Gulf of Guinea where we have been producing from sub-sea wells since 2001. At that time, we put under production the biggest FPSO (Floating Production Storage and Offloading) unit in the world. There we have been producing in water depth of 1,500 meters for more than 16 years. Now we are developing even deeper horizons.


CE: It is deeper than Shah Deniz….

Denis Lemarchal: Yes. The water depth at Shah Deniz is between 80 m and  500 m, while Absheron water depth are between 400 m and 650 m.


CE: Will technologies be the same at Absheron?

Denis Lemarchal: For the subsea production system, technologies are similar. But in Absheron, we do not need a production floating system or to install a fixed platform in shallow water nearby the field as the Oil Rocks facilities are located at 30 kilometers from the well. Then we will deliver gas and condensate to Oil Rocks.


CE: Which technologies are used to prevent leakage of light fractions into the sea?

Denis Lemarchal: 

TOTAL uses best in class modern technologies and equipment which are designed in a way to prevent and minimize any losses. Before we design a plant or a platform we go through a special process for risk identification. In terms of technologies we use:

-          high integrity pressure protection systems

-          we install sub-sea shut-down valves in the wells below the bottom of the sea to block any releases at the very beginning of the chain,

-          in both drilling and operations processes we systematically use double barrier principle

-          our plants are designed with use of safety instrumented systems

-          finally, TOTAL uses electronic control systems to monitor and manage any technological risks


CE: Will there be ‘zero emission’ principles applied in the sea?  

Denis Lemarchal: There will be no routine venting requirement applied for Absheron project as well as no hydrocarbons from the reservoir, nor any cuttings resulting from Oil Based Mud drilling, released to the Caspian Sea.

Total is carrying out Environmental and Social Impact Assessment of the project. The main objective is to evaluate the environmental impact and apply effective mitigation measures to minimize the impact and bring it to acceptable level. The environmental standards that will be used for the Absheron project, are based on the International and Azerbaijani standards considering specific environmental characteristic of the Caspian Sea, which is a very unique enclosed basin being a habitat to variety of species.


The Netherlands have legislatively limited production at Groningen field due to the seismicity of the region. Which additional safety measures will be foreseen in the course of Total’s operations at Absheron and other Caspian fields due to the seismicity of the region?

Denis Lemarchal: A detailed seismic study, including soil liquefaction risk, has been conducted, taking into account the results of a major geotechnical survey. The detailed engineering of equipment to be installed will integrate the results of this extensive study.



CE: How will Total act or interact with other operators in the Caspian in case if an emergency situation happens?

Denis Lemarchal: If you are talking about gas eruption, normally this should not happen because in drilling operations we use the system called BOP (blowout preventer system). So if we lose control over a well and if pressure increases too much, the well will close automatically. The equipment will tap the well and cut all the drill pipes. We test the pipes regularly and they are designed to sustain pressure. But even if an accident happens, what is needed first is to put a cap on the well. At first we take measures envisaged by our own system and only then, if not sufficient,  we apply for local regional support forces. The third one is that we have the international support.  Even if you lose control over your well and cannot put cement on it, you do a cement injection through the second well drilled next to it and stop production on the first one.

Due to the water depth and the pressure, only 3 drilling rigs in Caspian Sea could intervene on Absheron field, and the 2 others are under long term contract with another operator in Azerbaijan. Prior to the drilling campaign, an agreement of mutual support will be installed with this operator to prepare sublet of one of these two rigs in case of an emergency situation.


CE: Will there be international experts attracted to conduct environmental monitoring?

Denis Lemarchal: Total expertise in the Environmental domains is recognized worldwide, and specialists from Total at the highest level are already involved in this campaign preparation. If needed, additional experts may also be involved. (ex: marine mammals specialists will be invited onboard the vessel during the coming preparatory geophysical and geotechnical campaign)

Total owns extensive offshore environmental baseline data of the area gained from number of environmental baseline surveys and post drill environmental surveys from 2012 till 2017 years. Total plans to carry out post drill environmental survey once drilling campaign is completed. Both International and local experts will be involved into these activities.


                                                                                                                                                                                         Thank you for the interview


                                                                                                                                                                                                          Caspian Energy

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