In Case You've Wondered

My blog is where my wandering thoughts are interspersed with stuff I made up. So, if while reading you find yourself confused about the context, don't feel alone. I get confused, too.

If you're here for the stories, I started another blog:

One other thing: sometimes I write words you refuse to use in front of children, or polite company, unless you have a flat tire, or hit your thumb with a hammer.

I don't use them to offend; I use them to embellish.

Thursday, September 8, 2011

Blow Out

My last year and a half offshore was as the "nightman". I was senior contract roustabout, so I was the only person that worked at night. My duties varied, but they were mostly maintenance, such as straightening up the shop, or repairing some of the safety controls that ended up on the shop table. I, also, had to immediately answer the phone, or radio. If we lost a well, I had to wake the field superintendent, who would make a decision on whether to wake a pumper/gauger or leave it until morning. I helped whoever was sent, which varied, but the only thing they liked was the overtime. They were losing sleep, which they wouldn't be able to make up until they went home.

In the summer, few things caused problems with the gas wells scattered over the square miles of the leases under production. Most problems were minor and easily repaired. Winter was different. The controls would freeze and finding the problem could be tedious. Besides having to troubleshoot, and work, in low light conditions, the north wind was unimpeded. When added to the moisture in the air, it could be miserable.

Late one night, I heard someone calling one of the two workboats that stayed tied to the satellite platforms. This was unusual, since I was the one that usually made those calls. I moved closer to the radio when they called again. The call was from a drilling rig that was drilling a new well about 4 miles from the production platform. The boat skipper didn't answer, so I called the boat. The skipper answered, so I explained he was being called from the rig.

The man on the rig requested immediate assistance for evacuation. I looked from the shop and looked across the Gulf at the rig. It didn't look different, but I could hear a sound that can make the hair stand up on the back of your neck. High pressure gas was blowing and it was loud enough to overpower the sounds of the platform. Within seconds, all the lights from the derrick went out. That's when I noticed the zenon strobes in the water surrounding the rig. Somebody was in the water and their strobes had activiated when their life rings hit the water. It was now obvious; they had lost control and the well had blown out.

I listened to the boat skipper talking on the radio. The other skipper had wakened and was getting up to speed on the situation. As I ran up the stairs to waken the field superintendent, I noticed the cloud of gas drifting to the southeast. I wondered how long it would be before it lit.

Time seemed to have stopped. The entire event, from the first call, to awakening the field superintendent had taken about one minute. It was now a waiting game as the boats picked up the people in the water and finished evacuating the rig. Nobody was hurt, although a few ears were ringing. Those that went in the water were chilled, to say the least.

I went about my duties, while the field superintendent made phone calls and kept track of the evacuation. I would stop and look at the rig, which was now completely dark. Somebody had killed the generators so there were no lights except the navigation beacons. The northwest wind caused the sound of blowing gas to become louder, then softer. The boats were now back at the platform with those they had picked up. Eventually, only a few stayed at the platform. I figured they were higher up in the food chain and had responsibilities to stay close. The rest rode in on the crew boat assigned to the drilling rig.

Eventually, the sun started rising. A coast guard cutter patrolled around the rig for awhile, then left. The blowing gas was now very clear and a slick from the condensate liquid drifted to the east. My shift was over, so I went to bed.

I didn't sleep well, so I was up in the afternoon. When I went down to the galley, there was a new stranger talking to the field superintendent. He was wearing a pair of plain, well faded, red coveralls. He looked like any other oil field hand, except for the ring he wore. It had a huge diamond, which indicated he was either foolish with his money, or somebody of importance. He was a representative from Red Adair's company and had just returned from his examination of the drilling rig. His recommendation was to get another rig on site as soon as possible to drill a relief well. There was nothing else to do. There was no equipment that could be placed to control the well. He left within minutes on the helicopter.

Before nightfall, the amount of blowing gas started lessening. Eventually, it stopped and it was decided to make a complete investigation in the morning. It was too dangerous to get close to the rig. One spark would cause a terrible explosion and condemn the rig to scrap.

I watched the rig all night. I had been told to wake the field superintendent if anything changed. Nothing did, so the next day started with boat trip by the "powers to be" to determine what to do. Their decision was to return to the platform and complete the operation they hadn't finished.

The well had blown out at a point when all drilling was completed, the well was supposedly completely under control and they were in the process of final cementing to fill the voids between the casings. Gas from the production zone was leaking into the casings, which allowed its final escape. While blowing, the gas had disturbed enough of the uncured cement to allow it to collapse, which stopped the escaping gas.

Eventually the well was completed, a platform was placed and special production equipment was installed. All of the equipment was very expensive due to the high pressure of the well. All equipment was required to work with pressures in excess of 10,000 pounds per square inch.

The well turned out to be jinxed to the end. After placed in production, the pressure started dropping. Over a few months, the pressure dropped to the point the well couldn't produce into the main pipeline that operated at 1200 pounds per square inch. It was shut in and never produced again while I was there. Even at full production, it only produced 4 million cubic feet per day, which qualified it as a low producer, even in the best of situations.

I think of all the money spent on the well. Besides the drilling costs, the costs to bring it to production were more costly than usual. I guess that's part of the game the big boys play. It's all a gamble and losses are huge.

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