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Concerns raised over deep-water wells

  |   April 4, 2012 at 5:34 PM
MEXICO CITY, April 4 (UPI) -- Mexico's state-run oil company is defending itself against those who question its expertise to drill its first deep-water wells in the Gulf of Mexico.

Petroleos de Mexico, known as Pemex, plans two wells just south of the maritime border with the United States, McClatchy Newspapers reported Tuesday.

Both will be much deeper than BP's Deepwater Horizon well, which exploded about two years ago off the Louisiana coast, killing 11 workers and sending 4.9 million barrels of oil into the gulf in the largest offshore spill on record.

Pemex is to sink one well in 9,514 feet of water and the other in 8,316 feet, with work targeted to begin in May. When it exploded, the Deepwater Horizon was drilling in about 5,100 feet of water.

Mexico's oil regulator said Pemex isn't prepared for a serious deep-water accident or spill.

Drilling in depths of more than 5,000 feet poses significant challenges because of the high pressures and complicated seabed-extraction systems, McClatchy said.

Juan Carlos Zepeda, head of Mexico's National Hydrocarbons Commission, a regulatory body created in 2009, has insisted Pemex adopt global safety standards and prepare for worst-case scenarios.

Pemex, Zepeda said, should have adequate insurance to cover even catastrophic spills, as BP's Macondo well had, but Pemex has resisted.

BP has said the cost of the spill -- including government fines, cleanup and compensation -- could reach $42 billion for the company and its contractors.

Carlos A. Morales, chief of the Pemex's exploration and production arm, said the company was insured for $2.5 billion.

"I feel comfortable with what Pemex is capable of doing," Morales said. "You can always argue that $2.5 billion is not enough. We can always argue that $10 billion is not enough."

He noted the company's owner is the government of Mexico.

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