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Gulf Disaster Fuels New Safety Gear

May 24, 2011

HOUSTON — Last year’s deadly oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico has become an engine for innovation by energy-services companies and a compelling backdrop against which to roll out new products.

Companies large and small are introducing new devices that address some of the signature failures of the Deepwater Horizon blowout—from the equipment that failed to seal the well to the lack of technology for stanching the flow of oil into the Gulf.

A prime target for innovation is called a blowout preventer, a massive stack of valves that fits around drill pipe that extends into the earth’s crust. The device, a rig’s last line of defense against an out-of-control oil well, is equipped with hydraulic-powered blades known as a shear ram that cut the pipe as they close around it while attached blocks seal the well.

The Deepwater Horizon’s drill pipe was bent and pushed off-center by the force of the blowout, and its shear ram lacked the force needed to cut through the deformed pipe and seal the well, leaving oil and natural gas to spurt into the Gulf.