* System would compete with Exxon-led project
* Helix to use same equipment from BP oil spill
* Company interest said to be high
By Anna Driver
HOUSTON, Dec 8 Helix Energy Solutions Group Inc (HLX.N) is putting finishing touches on a system of vessels and equipment that could be used in a rapid response to a future deepwater oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, the company said on Wednesday.
Helix's system, a competitor to a project led by Exxon Mobil Corp XOM.N> that is still in the planning stages, is built from equipment that was used to siphon oil from the sea floor after BP Plc's (BP.L) Macondo well ruptured on April 20.
Helix is lining up companies to sign on to the project, likely using a retainer-like financial structure, Stephen Powers, director of investor relations as Houston-based Helix, said.
"We have had very heavy interest," Powers said, but declined to name any companies at this stage of the negotiations. "We will have a solution up and running here in very short order."
Earlier on Wednesday, John Crum, co-chief operating officer for Apache Corp (APA.N) told investors at the Wells Fargo energy conference that his company would likely take part in Helix' spill containment system.
U.S. regulators, aiming to make drilling in the Gulf of Mexico safer, are requiring companies to provide worst case oil and gas flow scenarios and also asking companies if they have access to a spill containment system, Crum said.
Helix' "Deepwater Containment System" includes vessels and crews that currently operate in the Gulf and seabed components that are built in advance, the company said.
The Helix system would involve 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.
The system includes two Helix rigs that BP used to produce or burn off about 800,000 barrels of the 4.4 million barrels of oil that spewed from the Macondo well.
A tanker to be chartered separately would gather and store oil that could be shipped to shore.
Exxon, Royal Dutch Shell (RDSa.L), ConocoPhillips (COP.N) and Chevron Corp (CVX.N) formed a nonprofit organization in July, called the Marine Well Containment Company, to operate and maintain their $1 billion spill containment system.
That system will consist of specially designed subsea containment equipment connected by manifolds, jumpers and risers to capture vessels that will store and offload any spilled oil. (Reporting by Anna Driver; Additional reporting by Kristen Hays in Houston; Editing by Tim Dobbyn)