Texas tough, Dakota strong

Pagel Weikum - Attorney at Law

Why Do Blowouts Occur?

Literally thousands of oil and gas wells are drilled in the United States and around the world, and only a “few” blowouts or explosions occur each year. Why is the industry able to drill so many wells safely, and what happens on those occasions where a well does blow-out?

First, “safe drilling practices” have resulted from the industry’s experiences with past blowouts. The industry knows that almost any well can explode if not kept under control. Safe drilling practices include the following:

  1. Circulating out gas bubbles, hydrocarbons, and pressure “kicks” with oil based drilling mud that is the proper weight to hold the well’s pressure;
  2. Properly rated and tested Blow Out Preventers (BOPs) that are in good working order;
  3. Experienced operators who recognize dangerous situations and always place safety first;
  4. Last but not least, being aware of the equipment in the hole and what effect the equipment has on operations.

Oil and gas wells can be safely drilled, but any time the operator ignores well conditions, is not properly trained in the use of down-hole equipment or does not follow safe drilling practices, disaster strikes. The response of most operators is to blame the drilling crew when the “EDS” or electronic data system provides instant information to the operator about well conditions. The company in charge of the well – with the ownership interest in the well – also has the ability to direct operations from remote locations. No operator should ever be in a position to say they did not know what was going on at their well location or did not know what down-hole conditions were at any time with today’s technology.

Blowouts and explosions are invariably the result of failure to follow known and established safe drilling procedures. If down-hole pressure is circulated out, if proper use of the choke manifold and gas buster is made, if the BOPs are in good working condition and have been properly tested, the well can be safely drilled. A consultant on location is no longer the only “eyes and ears” of the operator but still must ensure the crew is properly trained and knows their job.

Maybe the main danger in the industry today is one that can only be cured with time and education. The increase in drilling in the “Bakkan” shale in North Dakota, as well as the Eagle Ford in Texas, has resulted in more pressure on inexperienced crews and old rigs than the industry has ever had in the past.

The operator, consultant and drilling contractor must partner together to ensure the crews are properly educated and trained no matter the cost in man hours. An extra day or two of drilling time used to train a crew that saves lives or keeps a drilling rig and well from being lost is well worth the delay.

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