By Ayesha Rascoe
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Two competing oil spill response systems developed for the Gulf of Mexico in the aftermath of the massive BP oil spill may eventually join forces, a BP executive said on Monday.
Exxon Mobil and other oil majors formed the non-profit Marine Well Containment Company (MWCC) to develop a system to rapidly respond to major spills after BP's oil spill exposed the lack of equipment available to contain a deepwater spill.
Helix Energy Solutions Group Inc also developed a separate response and containment system for Gulf producers after the BP drilling disaster.
At the first meeting of a new government advisory panel on offshore drilling issues, the Ocean Energy Safety Advisory Committee panel questioned whether having two separate safety systems was practical when there was limited design expertise in that area.
The 15-member panel made up of industry, government and academic experts was set up by the U.S. Interior Department to provide guidance on offshore drilling research and practices after last year's explosion on the Deepwater Horizon rig killed 11 workers and unleashed nearly 5 million barrels of oil from the Macondo well.
"I think at some point and time in the future...these things will hopefully come together," James Dupree, Gulf of Mexico regional president for BP, told the panel.
BP joined MWCC after it capped its ruptured Macondo well last year.
At the advisory committee meeting, held two days before the one-year anniversary of the Gulf spill, Dupree discussed some of the lessons BP learned after being involved in the largest offshore oil spill in U.S. history.
Dupree said the two containment systems were designed to address different needs, with Helix an option for smaller firms who may not want to make a large commitment up front.
"One of the goals potentially of the MWCC group is to see how we can work together with the Helix group to try to accommodate solutions for all of the Gulf of Mexico," Dupree said.
The MWCC system includes a huge "capping stack" of valves and pipes, controlled by underwater robots, that can be placed atop a spewing well in 8,000 feet of water to stop the oil flow.
The Helix system involves placing a subsea shut-off device, valves and pipes atop a blowout preventer or well production equipment at the seabed. It would contain and channel oil and gas to production and storage vessels at the surface.
"They both bring something to the table at this point," said Lars Herbst, of Interior's Bureau of Ocean Energy Management.
(Editing by Sofina Mirza-Reid)