One of the most dangerous types of oil well accidents that can occur is an oil well blowout. In the past, blowouts were more common because there was no pressure control equipment. Therefore blowouts or ‘gushers’ were a much more common sight. They even became a symbol of oil prosperity, however they were still destructive, dangerous, and oftentimes fatal. With blowouts, one misplaced spark could mean a massive explosion.
Drilling oil wells became a lot safer in the mid-1920s with the advent of blowout prevention technology. A BOP valve could be closed in the event of drilling into a high-pressure zone, thereby controlling the well fluids. As this technology has become more sophisticated, oil well accidents resulting in blowouts have become more rare.
While they may be rare, they are not non-existent events. The pressure the hydrocarbons are under is massive. Safe extraction involves being very careful when handling this extremely volatile compound.
One possible problem can occur with the drilling mud that is used to lubricate the bit as it drills down into the earth. Drilling mud counters the pressure from the hydrocarbons that are pushing upwards. If the pressure isn’t properly counterbalanced, other safety checks that are put in place to allow the hydrocarbons to safely burn off must work properly. If not, a blowout can occur. These safety features should always be in place and should be tested regularly to make sure they are functioning properly and able to hold pressure.
In addition, if the drilling mud is returned to the surface too quickly, it may mean oil transfers into the hole and causes a blowout. The trip tank monitors the amount of drilling mud, and therefore careful and constant monitoring can prevent a blowout.
Underbalanced drilling (when the pressure on the well is less than or equal to that of the resevoir) is another practice that has benefits, but when not properly done can mean risking a blowout.
What else might go wrong with the BOP?
- Drilling crews might not shut the well properly
- The BOP might seal the well, but the pressure may exceed the BOP’s capacity
- The crew might not be able to safely activate the BOP
There are three main types of blowouts:
- Surface blowout: May blowout oil, sand, mud, rocks, drilling fluid, natural gas, water, etc.
- Subsea blowout: An example of a subsea blowout is the Deepwater Horizon Well blowout
- Underground blowout: Many surface blowouts begin as underground blowouts
BP Deepwater Horizon Blowout
In 2010, the largest marine oil spill in the history of the industry occurred in the Gulf of Mexico. Eleven people were killed when the oil rig exploded and sunk, and 4.9 million barrels of oil were spilled, resulting in massive ecological and environmental damage.
After investigations, it was found that the managers misread pressure data and allowed seawater to be used instead of drilling fluid, which was too light to prevent gas traveling up the rig, resulting in the explosion.
There have been many lawsuits filed against BP, Transocean, and other companies. Thousands of claims by individuals and businesses have been settled.
So, if you’ve been injured in the Texas Eagle Ford Shale, or offshore on an oil rig, please contact us at Kirkendall Dwyer for a free case review.