Remember how all the oil companies drilling in the Gulf insisted that BP's disaster was just that—BP's disaster, and not a symptom of larger safety problems in the industry? After months of watching the recent BP oil catastrophe unfold, ExxonMobil, Chevron, ConocoPhilips, and Royal Dutch Shell have voluntarily decided to invest $1 billion in a rapid-response plan for deepwater spills in the Gulf.
The four oil companies are forming a non-profit, the Marine Well Containment Company (MWC), to maintain the system. MWC plans on moving quickly—the system is expected to be finished within 18 months. The New York Times points us to this detailed fact sheet (PDF) about the plan, which explains:
This system offers key advantages to the current response equipment in that it will be pre-engineered, constructed, tested and ready for rapid deployment in the deepwater Gulf of Mexico. It is being developed by a team of marine, subsea and construction engineers from the four companies. The system will include specially designed subsea containment equipment connected by manifolds, jumpers and risers to capture vessels that will store and offload the oil. Dedicated crews will ensure regular maintenance, inspection and readiness of the facilities and subsea equipment.
Containment equipment will include modified tankers, drill ships, well-test vessels. Designed by a bevy of oil company engineers, the new subsea containment assembly will reportedly "create a permanent connection and seal to prevent oil from escaping into the water." The whole system will be ready to go within 24 hours of a spill. But we'll believe it when we see it (though we hope we never have to).
One billion dollars isn't much money considering how much profit these four oil companies reap every year, but it's a start. Next we'd like to see the MWC work on improving the names of the various containment operations. Junk shot and top kill just won't cut it next time around.