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Oil Well Blowout

Oil Well Blowouts

Common Causes of the Workplace Disasters

There are many different possible causes for fires and explosions on oil rigs. In the case of the Deepwater Horizon, the explosion was caused by a blowout. Blowouts are extremely dangerous workplace accidents that can injure or even kill the crew aboard the ship. Fighting for your compensation after blowout injury means standing up to big oil corporations that will do everything in their power to avoid liability, which is why you would need the help of a strong legal team, such as the one at Arnold & Itkin. We have fought Fortune 500 companies and won record-setting verdicts for our clients.

What is a blowout?

Blowouts are a release of built-up pressure from oil drilling efforts. When oil collects underground, it forms an oil field. When people drilling for oil attempt to tap into this concentration of oil, the pressure can build up and cause a blowout.

These blowouts used to be far more common as there was not the technology to control it. Now, however, workers have equipment designed to control the pressure. The first sign that a blowout may be eminent is an event known as a kick. The kick occurs when the pressure balance is off. If this kick is not controlled, the result could be a blowout. There are certain signs that workers can lookout for when it comes to kicks. The rate at which drilling takes place may suddenly change or the rate of surface fluid may change. Workers also need to be on the lookout for change in the pressure of the pump or a reduced weight in the drill pipe. Even though these events are less common than they used to be, the fact that a blowout caused the Deepwater Horizon disaster shows it's a serious problem.

Types of Well Blowouts

Blowouts could happen at any stage of the drilling process.

  • Well blowouts at the surface can cause the oil or gas to be ejected. It could also bring up mud, stones, and sand. These could be caused by sparks from rocks rubbing together or from another type of heat source.
  • The blowouts that occur on oil rigs are subsea blowouts. In these situations, the equipment that controls the pressure is located on the seabed. These are one of the most difficult types of blowouts because they occur anywhere from 10 feet to depths of 8,000 feet. Those in the industry do not have much experience in dealing with these types of situations, so when they do occur, it can cause serious problems.

Well Intervention

No one seems to question oil wells. These offshore behemoths are taken for granted as machines that do what they are supposed to do. The 2010 Deepwater Horizon spill seems to have changed that impression drastically, causing many people to reconsider the safety of our offshore production units. This is why the process known as "well intervention" is so important. This type of well work is conducted to manage the state of the well. Intervention can alter the well's geometry, run diagnostics, and even manage what the well is producing. Through-tubing is the most commonly used method for intervention. This means maintenance can be conducted on a well while still in use.

Tubing maintenance can remove obstructions from the tubes that oil travels through so that it flows more evenly and the risk of pipe burst goes down. Coil tubing is also commonly used. This will pump chemicals into the bottom of the well to clean it. Subsea well intervention is likely the most dangerous because underwater structures are more difficult to conduct maintenance on. There are three major types of vessels used for these operations.

Vessels Used

There are more than 5,000 subsea wells scattered throughout the seven seas and that number is rising every day with the ever-increasing demand for oil. Wells age just like any other piece of machinery does and they need repair, especially after ten years of operation. Instead of replacing these wells completely, well intervention vessels can assist offshore workers in repairing them. Well Ops, a division of Helix, has three vessels for well operations: a mono-hull, a well enhancer with ROV capabilities, and a multi-service vessel that can work in depths of more than 10,000 feet. The advances made in well technology are amazing, but there is still much to be improved.

Blowout Preventer (BOP)

It could have prevented the Deepwater Horizon from leaking billions of barrels of crude after the drilling rig exploded. Blowout preventers (BOP) are paramount in the deep water drilling industry. Wells are at a much higher risk of exploding or malfunctioning when they are being drilled at such great depths. This is why BOPs are so important. Blowout preventers are essentially specialized valves that can seal oil and gas wells in an instant. If a well explodes, these are designed to deal with intense pressure and heavy flow coming from the well reservoir.

Uncontrollable flows are called formation kicks.

A kick that has enough pressure can cause a well to blowout. BOPs not only can control the flow after it has already started, they can prevent drill pipes and drilling fluid from being blown out of the bore hole. With a properly working blowout preventer in place, the environment is kept safer and even more importantly, offshore workers are safer.

Checking Well Integrity

Maintaining well integrity can be defined as applying the necessary technological and organizational solutions so as to reduce the risk of blowouts and other gas leaks throughout the lifetime of a well. Those responsible for well integrity all work together to complete different tasks. There are those who work in accountability capacities. These individuals make sure that the necessary tasks are getting done. Sometimes, they will actually be the ones to carry out the tasks as well. Those charged with executing the necessary tasks on a well are well operations engineers, operators, and other well service techs.

There are also those who monitor the production tubing. The tubing involved in a production well is prone to corrosion due to the fluids that are used for drilling. The annulus of the well also needs to remain in balance with the pressure that is in the tubing. If the pressure gets off balance then the tubing may collapse entirely. Those who work on wells must be specialized engineers or other personnel specially trained to carry out their job requirements. Maintaining well integrity is complex.

BOP & the Deepwater Horizon Explosion

The Deepwater Horizon drilling rig exploded on April 20, 2010.

The BOP, as they are supposed to, was intended to activate automatically upon explosion. It did not. As a backup, underwater robots were used to manually attempt to trigger the system, but this did not work. A month after the incident when crude was still leaking into the Gulf Coast, investigations found that the blowout preventer's valves were partially closed, which was restricting the flow of oil. What investigators speculated was that the emergency systems may have become damaged in the explosion. The blowout preventer that failed weighed 300 tons.

Call (888) 346-5024 to Schedule a Free Consultation

Working on deep water wells is one of the most dangerous jobs in the United States. If you are an offshore worker employed in this occupation, then you are likely protected by the Jones Act. This is a special provision in admiralty law that protects those who spend a certain amount of time on US Navigable waterways.

If you would like to learn more about your rights under the Jones Act or how you may be able to obtain compensation, then contact our firm. Arnold & Itkin represented more than a third of injured crewmembers from the Deepwater Horizon disaster. You can trust our knowledge of the maritime industry when it comes to your case. If you were injured while working on a well or due to a BOP, then contact our offshore injury attorneys today!

Learn how we could help defend your injuries by calling an oil rig explosion lawyer at from our office at (888) 346-5024 today! We offer completely free consultations.

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