msnbc.com staff and news service reports
updated 7/21/2010 7:47:41 PM ET 2010-07-21T23:47:41

A new joint venture formed by four of the world’s biggest oil companies will develop a rapid response system for deepwater oil spills in the Gulf of Mexico.

Exxon, Shell, Chevron and ConocoPhillips will each contribute 25 percent to a $1 billion company that would be able to mobilize a response within 24 hours to capture and contain deep-sea oil spills, the companies said on Wednesday.

BP, whose blown-out well has leaked as much as 180 million gallons of oil into the Gulf, is not included in the venture but may, along with other companies, be able to use the strike force.

"We don't want to distract them at all," Rex Tillerson, Exxon's chief executive, told the Wall Street Journal.

The joint venture’s equipment will include a containment vessel capable of capturing up to 100,000 barrels of oil a day and other equipment to siphon any leaking oil up from the seafloor to a depth of 10,000 feet.

The four companies, which rely on offshore drilling, were not involved in the Gulf oil spill. But the growing catastrophe has dragged down share values as lawmakers promised to beef up regulations against the industry.

BP tried and failed several times to contain the gusher off the Louisiana Coast, frustrating residents and lawmakers. The British oil giant was later criticized for grossly underestimating the impact of a deepwater well blowout and overstating its ability to contain it.

The companies will create a nonprofit organization called the Marine Well Containment Company to operate and maintain the response system. ExxonMobil will lead the effort and other companies will be invited to participate.

The response team should be able to start mobilizing within 24 hours of an oil spill, and be fully in place within weeks, Sara Ortwein, vice president of engineering for Exxon Mobil Development Company, told the Wall Street Journal.

Frank Verrastro, an energy expert at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, told the New York Times that such an initiative was badly needed.

“The spill exposed the fact that the industry’s capability on capture and clean-up was 1980s vintage, in part because there was so much reliance on blowout preventers,” he said. “Companies have used their technology to get into the deepwater but they didn’t have an adequate plan to intervene at these depths or to contain a large-scale spill.”

Valdez response
Oil companies banded together and founded a similar organization soon after the Exxon Valdez spill in Alaska in 1989. The Virginia-based Marine Spill Response Corp was formed to respond to oil spills and much of its available equipment is already deployed in the Gulf.

U.S. Representative Edward Markey, a Democratic member of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, characterized the plan as a "positive step," but urged more attention to the prevention of future blow-outs.

"The oil companies must also invest more in technologies that will prevent fatal blowouts in the first place," Markey said in a statement.

A spokesman for BP said the company's current focus was capping the blown-out well, not new technology to contain future oil spills.

"We expect to be part of the overall effort moving forward," Scott Dean, a BP spokesman, said. "Once we get this leak capped, we would fully expect to share those learnings, which is key to what this group is doing."

The group will proceed immediately with the engineering, procurement, construction equipment and vessels for the system, with Exxon taking the lead.

The Associated Press and Reuters contributed to this report.

Video: Gulf storm threatens efforts to fix well

  1. Transcript of: Gulf storm threatens efforts to fix well

    BRIAN WILLIAMS, anchor: We want to turn now to the ongoing tragedy in the Gulf of Mexico , where that cap on the well is still holding, and where a lot of people are keeping a close eye on the weather tonight. Our chief environmental correspondent Anne Thompson in Venice , Louisiana , for us again tonight. Anne , good evening.

    ANNE THOMPSON reporting: Good evening, Brian . With the well still shut in and that relief well tantalizingly close to its final stages, there is a big problem tonight. It's one no one can control, and it threatens all the progress made to killing this well. Out at the leak site, this was supposed to be the day crews ran the final pieces of pipe in the first relief well, but instead of pipe, crews put in a storm plug.

    Mr. KENT WELLS (Senior Vice President, BP North America): The reason we did that is, with the weather window that we could see at this time, there was no way we could get the casing in, have it cemented and do all we need to do to be able to move off location before we could have tropical storm -force winds at the site.

    THOMPSON: The problem is not on Louisiana 's coast, where blue skies dominated today, but some 1600 miles away in the waters between Puerto Rico and the Dominican Republic and Haiti .

    CHRIS WARREN reporting: It's heading toward Florida . In two days it could be a tropical storm , or it could be nothing. But we do need to keep a very close eye on this.

    THOMPSON: The drilling rigs at the leak site must start moving out five days before gale-force winds are predicted to hit, and officials must also decide whether to keep the well shut in if they can't monitor it.

    Admiral THAD ALLEN, Retired (National Incident Commander): Is there any other way we can do surveillance, or would it be in the best interest to reduce the pressure in the well by venting some of the hydrocarbons out into the environment during that three- to four-day period so that we would make sure that there was less risk to the well head .

    THOMPSON: That means oil would once again flow into the gulf. This real life science experiment prompted four oil giants to join forces. ExxonMobil , Shell , Chevron and ConocoPhillips today announced they'll create a billion dollar venture to provide an oil containment system for use in depths of up to 10,000 feet that can collect as much as 100,000 barrels of oil a day. Meanwhile, the oil keeps coming as the first oil patty was found in the Mississippi River today. Now with the weather picture uncertain, tonight BP is moving some vessels of opportunity into shore and some equipment and

    supplies to higher ground. Brian: Anne Thompson in Venice , Louisiana . Anne , thank you for that.

    WILLIAMS:

Photos: Month 4

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  1. The Blue Dolphin, left, and the HOS Centerline, the ships supplying the mud for the static kill operation on the Helix Q4000, are seen delivering mud through hoses at the site of the Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill in the Gulf of Mexico, off the coast of Louisiana, on Aug. 3, 2010. In the background is the Development Driller III, which is drilling the primary relief well. (Gerald Herbert / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  2. Eddie Forsythe and Don Rorabough dump a box of blue crabs onto a sorting table at B.K. Seafood in Yscloskey, La., on Aug. 3, 2010. The crabs were caught by fisherman Garet Mones. Commercial and recreational fishing has resumed, with some restrictions in areas that were closed by the Deepwater Horizon oil spill. (Chuck Cook / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  3. Sea turtle hatchlings that emerged from eggs gathered on the northern Gulf Coast of Florida are released at Playalinda Beach on the Canaveral National Seashore near Titusville, Fla., on Aug. 2, 2010. The sea turtles were born at a Kennedy Space Center incubation site, where thousands of eggs collected from Florida and Alabama beaches along the Gulf of Mexico have been sent. (Craig Rubadoux / Florida Today via AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  4. A crab, covered with oil, walks along an oil absorbent boom near roso-cane reeds at the South Pass of the Mississippi River in Plaquemines Parish, Louisiana on Aug. 1, 2010. BP is testing the well to see if it can withstand a "static kill" which would close the well permanently. (Pool / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  5. A boat motors through a sunset oil sheen off East Grand Terre Island, where the Gulf of Mexico meets Barataria Bay on the La. coast, on the evening of July 31. (Gerald Herbert / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  6. Oil approaches a line of barges and boom positioned to protect East Grand Terre Island, partially seen at top right, on July 31. (Gerald Herbert / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  7. Oil from the Deepwater Horizon oil spill is seen near an unprotected island in the Gulf of Mexico near Timbalier Bay, off the coast of Louisiana on Wednesday, July 28. (Gerald Herbert / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  8. Greenpeace activists stand outside a BP gas station in London, England, on July 27 after they put up a fence to cut off access. Several dozen BP stations in London were temporarily shut down to protest the Gulf spill. (Leon Neal / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  9. James Wilson sells T-shirts to those arriving in Grand Isle, La., for the music festival Island Aid 2010 on July 24. (Dave Martin / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  10. Activists covered in food coloring made to look like oil protest BP's Gulf oil spill in Mexico City on July 22. The sign at far left reads in Spanish "Petroleum kills animals." (Alexandre Meneghini / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  11. People in Lafayette, La., wear "Keep Drilling" tee shirts at the "Rally for Economic Survival" opposing the federal ban on deepwater drilling in the Gulf of Mexico on Wednesday, July 21. Supporters at the rally want President Obama to lift the moratorium immediately to protect Louisiana's jobs and economy. (Ann Heisenfelt / EPA) Back to slideshow navigation
  12. A flock of white ibis lift off from marsh grass on Dry Bread Island in St. Bernard Parish, La., July 21. Crews found about 130 dead birds and 15 live birds affected by oil from the Deepwater Horizon oil spill on July 19 in the eastern part of the parish behind the Chandeleur Islands. (Patrick Semansky / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  13. Kenneth Feinberg, administrator of the BP Oil Spill Victim Compensation Fund testifies during a hearing before the House Judiciary Committee on July 21 in Washington, D.C. The hearing was to examine the claim process for victims of the Gulf Coast oil spill. (Alex Wong / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  14. An American white pelican has its wings checked during a physical examination at Brookfield Zoo’s Animal Hospital by Michael Adkesson and Michael O’Neill on July 21. The bird, along with four other pelicans, was rescued from the Gulf Coast oil spill and will be placed on permanent exhibit at the zoo. (Jim Schulz / Chicago Zoological Society via AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  15. Native people of the Gwich'in Nation form a human banner on the banks of the Porcupine River near Ft. Yukon, Alaska July 21, in regard to the BP oil spill with a message to protect the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge from oil development. The images include a Porcupine caribou antler and a threatened Yukon River Salmon. (Camila Roy / Spectral Q via Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
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  1. Image:
    Gerald Herbert / AP
    Above: Slideshow (15) Oil spill disaster in the Gulf - Month 4
  2. Image: Economic And Environmental Impact Of Gulf Oil Spill Deepens
    Mario Tama / Getty Images
    Slideshow (64) Oil spill disaster in the Gulf - Month 3
  3. Image: Oil Spill In The Gulf
    Digitalglobe / Getty Images Contributor
    Slideshow (81) Oil spill disaster in the Gulf - Month 2
  4. Image: Dispersed oil caught in the wake of a transport boat floats on the Gulf of Mexico
    Hans Deryk / Reuters
    Slideshow (53) Oil spill disaster in the Gulf - Month 1
  5. Image:
    Gerald Herbert / AP
    Slideshow (10) Oil spill disaster in the Gulf - Rig explosion

Map: Gulf oil spill trajectory

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