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Tips for preventing an oil well blowout

Drilling for oil and gas is one of the most dangerous jobs on earth. It’s also really big business. The men and women who work on oil rigs are expected to work hard, long hours and do their jobs well and efficiently. They in turn expect their drilling companies to train them properly, give them equipment in good working order, and provide them with the safest working environment possible given the circumstance.

One of the things that makes drilling so dangerous is what is called an “oil well blowout”. This is a catastrophic event that can range from an entire off shore rig catching on fire, exploding, and flooding the seas with oil to at the least losing the drilling company money from oil or gas leaking. More common is a blowout that is somewhere in between.

What causes a blowout?

While drilling for oil or gas a drilling rig will drill or bore into the ground, sometimes miles, into pockets of oil or gas inside the earth. These pockets of oil and gas are often under a tremendous amount of pressure. This high pressure is usually kept under control by the drilling fluid that is pumped into the ground as the drill bores into the ground. An oil or gas well blowout occurs when the pressure isn’t kept under control and “blows out” to the surface and through the hole the drill created.

The pressure can be disrupted by lowering the pipes into the ground or removing the drilling pipes from the ground. This is done for several reasons including changing the drill bits.

What prevents a blowout?

BOP: A device called a blowout preventor or BOP was created for modern drilling rigs. This is attached to the surface casing at the base of the rig where it acts as somewhat of a lid on a pressure cooker. There are land BOPs and offshore BOPs and they are designed to prevent serious damage to the rig and personel in the event of a blowout. They regulate the amount and pressure of the fluids that “hold down” the oil or gas being drilled.

Proper monitoring of the BOP: Another way to prevent a blowout is the proper management of the BOP device. Mud engineers are tasked with monitoring the drilling fluid or mud’s consistency and weight making sure that it is adequate to prevent blowouts. They take samples at regular intervals and monitor for any warning signs that a blowout is imminent such as a sudden decrease in the amount of weight needed to drill into a rock formation.

In recent years one of the most well-known and devastating blowouts was the BP oils spill. The Wall Street Journal (1) reported that BP was found negligent in part because of a misinterpretation of negative pressure test, which was meant to ensure no gas was seeping into the well. This along with debris in the bottom of the well clogging a critical valve led to the loss of life, devastating effects on the Gulf of Mexico with spilled oil, and a crippled economy for a large region of the US.

(1)BP Is Found Grossly Negligent in Deepwater Horizon Disaster. (n.d.). Retrieved June 29, 2015, from http://www.wsj.com/articles/u-s-judge-finds-bp-grossly-negligent-in-2010-deepwater-horizon-disaster-1409842182

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