Oil Drilling Safety and Accidents

Posted: June 4th, 2010 by: h2

I was following the daily theOilDrum.com BP Deepwater Horizon blowout thread, when I came across this interesting discussion.

A few things. Note the starting two Gulf accident reports. Keep those in mind. This is risky dangerous work, and unless you have the good fortune to have a guy like ROCKMAN in charge, that risk might even be encouraged by the company in order to cut costs and expedite well completion times. So read and weep:

Accident 1:

junkshot on June 4, 2010 – 9:29am Permalink | Subthread | Comments top

Executive Summary
An accident that resulted in one fatality and a brief loss of well control occurred on Forest Oil Corporation’s (FOC) Platform B, High Island Block A-466, Well B-11, Lease OCS-G 03242 in the Gulf of Mexico, offshore the State of Texas, on February 20, 2006, at approximately 0820 hours. Forest Oil Corporation had hired the contractor, Twachtman, Snyder & Byrd, Incorporated (TSB), to conduct plug
and abandonment operations on Well B-11.

From February 14, 2006, to February 19, 2006, plug and abandonment operations were being conducted on the subject well. The tubing was being stripped out of the hole by using a hydraulic rig (casing jacks) when the tubing became stuck on February 19, 2006. On the morning of February 20, 2006, an attempt was made by FOC’s “company man” to pull the tubing, when the tubing parted. The parted tubing was forced upward, causing the top slips to be ejected from the top bowl of the casing jacks. The ejected slips fatally struck FOC’s “company man” as he attempted to evacuate the immediate area.

This investigative panel has concluded, based on information in the report findings, that the deceased exceeded the yield strength of the tubing when he pulled approximately 135,000 pounds on the tubing, causing it to part. This resulted in the tubing and slips being ejected from the wellbore, the slips fatally striking the deceased as he attempted to evacuate the area, and a brief loss of well control. It is also the conclusion of this panel that the deceased did not calculate enough of a safety factor when he determined maximum amount pull for the grade of pipe. Furthermore, this panel concludes that the lack of appropriate equipment (snubbing unit) and appropriately trained personnel are contributing causes to this incident. Additionally, poor judgment and decisionmaking by the deceased and TSB’s field supervisors on the platform are also considered contributing causes to this incident. This investigative panel has also concluded that ineffective management and supervision of the operation by both FOC and TSB (at all levels) is a possible contributing cause of this incident. Upper management at FOC and TSB were detached from the field operation and failed to provide direct oversight and control. At TSB, no effective chain of command structure was in place and no one in the office was overseeing the operation. FOC relied entirely on consultants to supervise the operation onsite and offsite. The deceased exceeded his authority and made operational decisions on behalf of FOC and TSB without input from management.

Accident 2:

junkshot on June 4, 2010 – 9:36am Permalink | Subthread | Comments top

Investigation and Report
On July 5, 2005, at approximately 1200 hours, an unplanned riser disconnect occurred on the Ensco (hereinafter referred to as “Contractor” or “Ensco”) semi-submersible drilling unit 7500 (hereinafter referred to as the “Rig”), resulting in the release of 710 barrels of synthetic-based mud. The incident occurred on Anadarko Petroleum’s (hereinafter referred to as “Operator” or “Anadarko”) Lease OCS-G 21810, Green Canyon Block 652, in the Gulf of Mexico (GOM), offshore the State of Louisiana.

Pursuant to Section 208, Subsection 22 (d), (e), and (f), of the Outer Continental Shelf (OCS) Lands Act, as amended in 1978, and Department of the Interior Regulations 30 CFR 250, Minerals Management Service (MMS) has investigated and prepared a public report of this accident. By memorandum dated July 12, 2005, the following personnel were named to the investigative panel:

Frank Pausina, Chairman – Office of Safety Management, GOM OCS Region Glenn Woltman – Technical Assessment and Operations Support Section, GOM OCS Region Charles Smith – Accident Investigation Board, Office of Offshore Regulatory Programs, MMS HQ
Because of an ongoing injury and his inability to participate in the investigative process, a memorandum dated June 29, 2006, released Frank Pausina from the panel.

During the afternoon of July 5, 2005, District personnel from the Department of the Interior, Minerals Management Service (MMS) office in Houma, Louisiana, received preliminary statements on the incident from the Operator, along with the current status of recovery efforts. At that time, the rig was in a controlled drift at maximum thruster power with an easterly heading. The result of the incident was the loss of an estimated 710 barrels of synthetic mud when the riser was disconnected subsea. The well was secured with the blowout preventers closed, and all personnel on board were taken into account.

Safety Discussion:

ROCKMAN on June 4, 2010 – 10:23am Permalink | Subthread | Parent | Parent subthread | Comments top

junk shot — what the heck are you trying to do? Scare folks more than they already are? Actually it’s unfortunate that reports like you’ve posted haven’t been in the public eye to a much greater degree. Beyond what you’ve offered, well kicks that don’t cause loss control happen all the time. If the public had been more aware perhaps the fed regulators and operators would have been more focused on prevention. How many of us cruise down the highway over the speed limit and slow down after we see someone getting a ticket? And not just because we may think there’s another cop just down the road. Sometimes we slow down just because we realize there wasn’t a good reason to speed and thus reason to speed. If the MMS saw the public being repeated alarmed about near catastophies they might have tightened up some just for the sake of public perception about their job performance.
E L on June 4, 2010 – 11:19am Permalink | Subthread | Parent | Parent subthread | Comments top

The insoluble problem here is that we speed in the first place (and the second place and ad infinitum). Two hours or two days later we return to our risky behavior. And in a highly risky environment it only takes one speeder and one moment. I don’t know how to “solve” the problem but I think more cops would reduce the risks. And that’s all good. Thanks for putting the issue in simple, every-day terms. The mark of an expert. [Bye the bye, this discussion leads one into some very tricky, “boot-on-the-throat” political ideology.]
ROCKMAN on June 4, 2010 – 12:23pm Permalink | Subthread | Parent | Parent subthread | Comments top

EL — To carry on the speeding analogy I’ve seen reports that those automatic radar units that snap pics of speeding cars as they go have been very effective. But only when folks know they are there and that they’ll be mailed a ticket. If operators knew there would be a MMS inspector on every rig during a critical phase and that the inspector could write them a $100,000 ticket every time he saw them violating standard safe well practices I think we would see the number of near misses (let alone actual blow outs) go down dramaticly. The cost of this additional oversight would be minimal…easily less than 1% of the typical total well cost. In fact, operators might save money in the long run by having fewer accidents. And a track record of a lower accident rate might also reduce insurance costs too.

All my drillers and subcontarcts know my rules: have a near miss by not playing it safe and they’ll never work for me again. Given we’re one the few companies with lots of capital to spend right now that threat works quit well.

Note what ROCKMAN point out, kicks from natural gas happen frequently, but are generally stopped or controlled before catastrophe strikes. I think he estimated that happens about 50 times a year in the Gulf. So when you add up year after year, and then throw in companies having no blowouts getting a bit complacent and greedy and sloppy, you basically guarantee yourselves a disaster eventually.

Especially when regulatory agencies are stripped of their power and authority, regulations are disabled or diminished because of an insane ideology of ‘free market’ perfection, which is of course really just a mask that hides greed and irresponsibility and refusal to admit the connection between business entities and the larger social body. The Bush group, Jr., was especially bad in this regard because almost all of them had direct ties to the oil industry (covers some of the chronologies of de-regulation re oil drilling), and all shared the ideology that government is bad, except when being used to enable greater and greater accumulations of wealth among the wealthy.

But it’s still nice to see honest, competent guys like ROCKMAN, who reminds me of a really great auto mechanic I know, who is also totally honest, works basically for himself in a small garage, and who knows pretty much all there is to know about cars and diagnostics. So here and there this country still maintains some sense of quality and integrity.

ROCKMAN on June 4, 2010 – 9:35am Permalink | Subthread | Parent | Parent subthread | Comments top

mb — I obviously can’t tell you what BP was thinking in regards to BOP effectiveness. But I can tell you how I (and just about most who I’ve worked with) view the BOP. It is not THE PRIMARY system that keeps a well from blowing out. It’s a last ditch Hail Mary Pass. You count on it when all else fails. But the “all else” part of the equation are safe drilling practices. Very few hands on the rig involve themselves with the BOP. They are focused on safe drilling practices and monitoring the well for problems. From the unconfirmed reports the well didn’t blow out due to BOP failure. It blew out due to poor decisions made with regards to operations. The rig blew up because the BOP failed.

To be more clear: had the BOP functioned properly the well would have still flowed oil/NG up the well bore. Think of this as a contained blow out. The BOP failure led to an uncontained blow out. In fact, they could have prevented the blow out without activating the BOP. Had they realized early on that the well was flowing they could have closed all the return lines and prevented the venting of the oil/NG to the drill floor. Then they could have pumped heavy mud down and killed the flow. As described before this is a standard procedure. Such “kill” events are more common than the public realizes. If the well doesn’t exploded there’s no news coverage.

BP certainly made operational decisions with an eye on cost control. All operators do the same. But it gets back to “judgment calls”. It would appear some poor judgment calls led to the blow out. But the entire event could have been avoided IMHO had they been closely monitoring the mud returns as they displaced the riser/csg. I wouldn’t even call that a bad judgment call. It was simply neglecting to conduct a rather standard and proven method of keeping a well safe. Again IF THE EARLY REPORTS ARE CORRECT, the failing to detect the mud flow was THE ultimate failing IMHO. And this failure was not a cost savings effort. It would not have cost BP $1 more for the assigned personnel to monitor the mud returns. They just didn’t do it. Just a guess but when the hearings/trials are conducted I suspect a major focus will be on the attitude towards such safe guards. Not just by the hands on the rig but also the signals those personnel got from BP/Transworld management. It won’t be black and white. Mostly anecdotal I suspect. But the hands on the rig rely heavily on the attitude of the operator as to how safely they conduct themselves. In my current position I make such judgment calls often. The hands who have worked with me for a while know what I expect from them. And when I get new hands I sit them down and make it very clear what I expect: accidents will happen for a number of reasons. But when one does they better be damn sure the cause wasn’t that they were in a hurry or trying to save money. When I ever I issue an order the very last thing I say is: “Don’t hurt anyone”. Every time…without exception. Drilling hands and subcontractors get chewed on all the time about costs overruns. They want to get another contract from that operator. If the operator establishes an atmosphere where cost control will be a major determining factor in the award of future contracts then it’s easy to see why some hands will start making bad choices and taking unnecessary risks. Human nature is what it is whether you’re the CEO of BP or a drilling floor hand.

ROCKMAN on June 4, 2010 – 5:14pm Permalink | Subthread | Parent | Parent subthread | Comments top

tow — get use to this argument. We’ll probably hear a lot along these lines when the formal hearings begin. Whether you’re drilling, running csg, adding drill pipe, displacing the riser or just sitting there picking your nose there is one primary indicator that a well is kicking: mud is flowing back up out of the well with the mud pumps off. On every well that has ever blow out or taken hard kick someone was responsible for watching mud returns. And in many cases that someone wasn’t doing it for anyone of a variety of “excuses”. Ezel can say no one ordered the hand to stop watching mud returns. He might even be able to show written orders that this hand was to be monitoring mud returns at the time. I’ve been on many rigs shifting into shut down mode. And it’s always the same for the subcontractors: clean your stuff up, pack up and get on the damn boat…NOW! Every hand on the rig knows TPTB are checking their watches every 10 minutes. You want to work for that company again and you do what you know is expected of you. And that isn’t always what the “official orders” say. I mentioned before my policy for monitoring mud returns: in addition to the hands that normally do it I also have my company man walk out and check it. And that’s just when we turn the pumps off when adding another joint of drill pipe. Not when we’re in riskier situation. Most company man think such efforts are below their pay grade. That’s their choice. Just as it’s mine to run them off. My rule is really simple: you put the safety of the hands/rig above money. Or you don’t work for me. I know it might sound contrite to some but it is the attitude of management that determines how safe the hands work. If money is very important to the operator then all the hands know it. And everyone wants to come back for another hitch.

I’ve heard every excuse in the book for mud returns not being monitored at a critical point. And my response will always the same: get off rig. I don’t have a clear picture of the players involved. It might well be that the hand responsible for monitoring mud returns was killed. It will sound harsh and it’s certainly premature. But reading between the lines it sounds like the scapegoat(s) are being lined up. And we all know it’s rather difficult for the dead to defend themselves.

And here’s another interesting perspective on safety, which I suspect is far closer to the norm in the oil drilling industry that the safe practices of ROCKMAN and others who are in the envious position of working for small companies run by people who are responsible and competent.

Read the above and then read the below, and I think you’ll have a very good cross-section of the reality of the oil industry as a whole.

Very early on in my career I learned that the industry I had chosen, though I loved it, was dominated by the macho myth of big iron, big rigs, wild wells, and wild men. I was swept up in it myself, pushing my own personal limits; my efforts propelled me quickly up the ranks, but my aggressiveness was one of the causes that lead up to my losing battle with the pit fire. Rules were made to be broken, and money was A-1. Profit was everything, and efforts to make those profits not only pushed the edge of the envelope of responsibility and honesty, they often tore the envelope all to pieces. It was common practice for service companies to overcharge customers and to use inferior products to increase margins. Salesmen regularly offered up everything from cowboy boots to televisions for company men who could be influenced by this graft to send work the salesman’s way. Pipe and wellheads were regularly stolen. Oil was siphoned off into water tanks, only to be picked up and sold by unscrupulous water haulers. A common saying was that if the representative for oil purchasers didn’t steal his own salary from the producer by underreporting oil on location, he wasn’t doing his job. Producers underpaid royalties to landowners by applying adjustments and excessive charges. It was everywhere.
My Industry Should be Ashamed of Itself

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