Oil Well Blowout Lawyers
Offshore Blowouts & Your Right to Compensation
There are many different possible causes for fires and explosions on oil rigs, and a blowout is one of these. Such was the case with the Deepwater Horizon, which exploded and sank after its blowout preventer failed, leading to the loss of 11 crew members and the biggest oil spill in U.S. history. When blowouts injure or kill crews and threaten the environment, Arnold & Itkin stands up to oil and gas giants to seek answers and accountability. We overcome their efforts to avoid liability and fight for life-changing verdicts and settlements that help our clients build brighter futures.
What Is an Oil Well Blowout?
A blowout is 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.
The first sign that a blowout may be imminent is an event known as a kick. The kick occurs when the pressure balance is off. If this kick is not controlled, a blowout may result. There are certain signs that workers can look out 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 changes in the pressure of the pump or a reduced weight in the drill pipe.
Blowouts used to be far more common, as there was no equipment or technology to control them. Now, we have equipment designed to monitor and control the pressure. Modern drilling rigs are equipped with sophisticated systems that constantly monitor well pressure, fluid returns, and other critical parameters. These systems can automatically trigger alarms and shut down operations if they detect abnormal conditions that could lead to a blowout.
Types of Well Blowouts
Blowouts can happen at any stage of the drilling process.
- Well blowouts at the surface can cause the oil or gas to be ejected. They can 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 offshore 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. Controlling a subsea blowout can be exceedingly challenging, and such a blowout can have a significant environmental impact.
Preventing & Controlling Oil Well Blowouts
The primary goal is to prevent offshore oil well blowouts from occurring in the first place, but in the event that one does occur, quick and effective response is crucial. Crews' lives often depend on it.
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 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 used method for intervention, as maintenance can be conducted on a well while it is still in use. Tubing maintenance can remove obstructions so oil 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. Well Ops, a division of Helix, has three vessels for subsea well intervention 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 Preventers (BOPs)
A blowout preventer (BOP) is essentially a high-pressure valve or a series of valves installed at the wellhead. It can seal the space between the drilling apparatus and the wellbore (the hole drilled for exploration or extraction), or it can close off the wellbore itself. This sealing capability is crucial in managing sudden and unexpected surges of underground pressure, which are common in drilling operations.
There are two main types of BOPs:
- Annular Blowout Preventers: These use a donut-shaped rubber seal to control the well. They can close around the drill string, casing, or a non-cylindrical object, and can even seal an open hole.
- Ram Blowout Preventers: These have pairs of opposing steel plungers, known as rams, which extend toward each other to seal the well. There are different types of rams based on their function: pipe rams, blind rams, shear rams, etc.
BOPs are a critical line of defense against blowouts. They are essential for safe drilling operations, particularly in environments where high pressures are encountered, such as in deepwater drilling. During the Deepwater Horizon incident, the rig’s blowout preventer failed. The 300-ton device, a blind shear ram BOP designed to slice through the pipe carrying oil, malfunctioned, and approximately 134 million gallons of oil spilled into the Gulf of Mexico before the well was capped about 3 months later. The failed BOP became a focal point in understanding why the disaster occurred.
The effectiveness of a properly functioning BOP cannot be overstated. It plays a pivotal role in safeguarding the environment and protecting the lives of offshore workers.
Checking Well Integrity
Well integrity management is crucial for minimizing the risks of blowouts and leaks over a well's lifetime. It involves coordinated efforts from various experts to maintain the safety and functionality of the well. Key personnel, including well operations engineers, operators, and service technicians, are responsible for carrying out and overseeing critical tasks. Their role is pivotal in upholding safety standards and ensuring the structural and operational soundness of the well. These professionals are tasked with implementing and monitoring necessary procedures to maintain the well's integrity.
A significant part of this process is overseeing the production tubing, which is prone to corrosion from drilling fluids. The tubing's condition is vital for the safe functioning of the well. Equally important is maintaining a balance in pressure between the well's annulus and the tubing. An imbalance in this pressure can lead to severe issues, like tubing collapse.
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Working on deepwater wells is one of the most dangerous jobs in the world, and blowouts are one of the worst incidents in terms of environmental impact and risk to workers’ lives. If you lost someone you love or were injured in an offshore oil well blowout, you have the right to seek answers and accountability. The Jones Act, Death on the High Seas Act, and other maritime laws offer specific protections to seamen and their families, and we are here to see these fulfilled.
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 crew members from the Deepwater Horizon disaster. You can trust our knowledge of the maritime industry when it comes to your case.
Contact our offshore oil well blowout attorneys today for a free consultation.