• Accident News For Roughnecks

    2 Years After Oklahoma Well Explosion Killed 5, Safety Rules Remain Much The Same

    Two years ago, an oil well near a small Oklahoma town exploded into a fireball that swept through a drilling rig, killing five in an accident deemed a needless catastrophe by federal investigators and casting a short-lived spotlight on a lack of regulation and oversight across the oil and gas industry.

    Quinton Oklahoma drilling rig explosion that killed 5The accident involving a Houston drilling company was the industry’s deadliest since the Deepwater Horizon tragedy 10 years ago, but the response to the Oklahoma explosion has been far less urgent. While the Gulf of Mexico explosion, which killed 11, spurred a drilling moratorium and a wave of new regulations, the Oklahoma disaster entered the national headlines for a brief spell and was quickly forgotten — even after the U.S. Chemical Safety and Hazard Investigation Board found widespread failures and a woeful lack lack of safety standards and rules in the onshore drilling sector.

    What has happened since then? Not much.

    “Onshore is sort of a black hole,” said Lauren Grim, a supervisory investigator at the Chemical Safety Board. “There’s not really a whole lot of rules and regulations for safety on the state and federal levels, and that’s what we’re trying to correct.”

    The safety board’s report was scathing. It found that the companies planned poorly and cut corners, resulting in myriad contributing factors to the five deaths, including a failed blowout preventer, a muted alarm system, lapses in well monitoring, inadequate employee training, and not enough emergency exits in the driller’s cabin, called the doghouse, where the workers were trapped.

    The Chemical Safety Board also found that state and federal safety laws governing drilling are inadequate, as are the standards adopted by the American Petroleum Institute, the industry’s trade group. Federal and state regulators and API are beginning to consider the safety board’s recommendations, which range from better well control rules to tougher equipment standards to improved employee training, but bureaucracy moves slowly, said Grim. More substantial changes could still be a couple years away or so.

    “These recommendations do take a lot of time,” said Grim. “It’s really hard to say how it will turn out until we see all the responses and the end results.”

    In contrast, the federal government imposed the drilling moratorium less than two months after Deepwater Horizon. Executive orders to increase oversight of the ocean and coasts were issued within three months while a national commission reported its findings on the accident within a few months. In just over a year, the federal Minerals Management Service, which had overseen offshore development, was split into three agencies with distinct oversight and regulatory capabilities: the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, the Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement and the Office of Natural Resources Revenue.

    The BP accident, of course, was the largest offshore oil spill in the nation’s history, spewing more than 4 million barrels of oil from Louisiana bayous to Florida beaches before the well finally was permanently sealed five months after the initial loss of life.

    A tragic incident

    The environmental impact of the Oklahoma explosion pales in comparison to the Deepwater Horizon tragedy, but the slow-moving regulatory process means the risk of a repeat incident.

    The onshore well was owned by a small Oklahoma City firm, Red Mountain Energy, but the drilling rig was owned and operated by Patterson-UTI Energy, a Houston oil field services company. Another key contractor was the Houston company National Oilwell Varco, called NOV, which monitored the drilling fluids used to keep the well pressures stable and the drill bit moving along.

    Killed in the fire were Josh Ray, 35, of Fort Worth; Cody Risk, 26, Wellington, Colo.; and Matt Smith, 29, McAlester, Okla.; all of whom worked for Patterson-UTI; and Parker Waldridge, 60, Crescent, Okla.; and Roger Cunningham, 55, Seminole, Okla., who worked for other contractors.

    Most of the families of the dead workers have settled lawsuits with Red Mountain and Patterson-UTI and signed nondisclosure agreements. A trial in Oklahoma is underway this week as the family and friends of Ray and Risk pursue claims against NOV, which has refused to accept blame in the accident.

    The families of the victims declined comment, citing ongoing litigation and the settlements. NOV did not respond to messages seeking comment.

    In his opening statements in court, attorney David Rumley noted that Cody Risk was new on the job as a floorhand, connecting pipes, doing the heavy lifting and keeping the site organized. He was the primary parent to three children.

    Josh Ray’s daughter, Ava, counted the days until her father would return home to Fort Worth on an oil derrick magnet on the refrigerator.

    “She’d write in the day of when her daddy’s coming home,” Rumley told the jurors. “ He was coming home in two days to see his family.”

    Rumley argued that NOV used drilling fluids that weren’t heavy enough to keep the natural gas from flowing out of the well. He told the court that NOV didn’t provide enough staffing and the workers didn’t have enough training. He alleged “reckless disregard,” saying that all the companies were at fault but only NOV has refused to accept responsibility.

    NOV has responded in court that it was at the bottom of the chain of command and didn’t bear any responsibility. All of the decisions were made by Red Mountain, the company said, and the drilling fluids cited by Rumley as a smoking gun were destroyed in the fire. The fluids tested after the fact weren’t necessarily reflective of what was used in the well, NOV said.

    What comes next

    Responses to the report by the companies and Oklahoma and their recommendations to the Chemical Safety Board are expected to be completed this year.

    A spokeswoman for the federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration said it is taking the report’s recommendations under advisement and that potential rulemaking changes are on the agenda under “long-term actions.”

    The first report back is likely to come from the Oklahoma Corporation Commission, which sets regulations for oil and gas drilling in the state. The commission’s report should be finished in February, spokesman Matt Skinner said.

    “This is a complex issue looking at all the state laws and government regulations,” Skinner said. “It’s a terrible tragedy obviously, but it doesn’t fit neatly into the current box of state law.”

    The Oklahoma commission has limited jurisdiction, so any substantial new rules and regulations recommended by the state commission would require approval from the Oklahoma Legislature. But enacting new laws would take additional time and might never come to fruition.

    Patterson-UTI plans to file its response report and recommendations later this year. The Houston driller said it immediately evaluated which policies and procedures could be improved. It has enhanced well control policies, among other steps, and created a new technical training program that it has shared with industry to help prevent a similar accident from happening again.

    “We continue to remember the five men who lost their lives in this accident, and our deepest sympathies remain with their families,” the company said in a statement. “While nothing can make up for the tragic loss of life, we reached mutually agreeable settlements with each of their families. We remain committed to preventing an accident like this from ever happening again.”

    The American Petroleum Institute, which is the oil and gas industry’s arm for setting technical standards as well as political lobbying, said it is still working through its responses to all of the Chemical Safety Board’s recommendations.

    API spokesman Reid Porter said the oil and gas industry is safer than ever and constantly working to improve, including updating its industry safety standards for drilling and well-servicing operations last year.

    “We are continuing our engagement in industry work groups to consider the recommendations from the Chemical Safety Board since the incident,” Porter said. “We regularly update industry standards through ongoing research, training and information sharing.”

    Adam Peltz, a senior attorney with the Environmental Defense Fund on oil and gas regulations, said he’s hopeful Oklahoma will adopt better safety rules for well control procedures and those improvements would spread to other states.

    Federal authorities need better oversight over oil and gas drilling, Peltz said, but much of regulatory details need to remain with the individual states because geology and topography varies across the country. States should have the expertise to set rules for drilling in their geological formations from shale rock to salt domes, from gas-laden Appalachia to the oil-heavy Permian.

    Peltz said most well blowouts don’t have fatalities, but still release enormous amounts of greenhouse gases. They frequently go overlooked. Texas, for instance, records anywhere from 10 to 30 instances a year of well blowouts or well control problems.

    “When there’s an accident of this magnitude with this many fatalities it’s a great tragedy,” he said, “and we’re grateful they’re as rare as they are.”

    Source: Houston Chronicle


    Three Oilfield Companies Charged In Sour Gas Leak

    The Alberta Energy Regulator has charged three companies for allegedly releasing toxic gas that “impacted human health” near a town in the northwestern region of the province in 2018.

    H2S GasThe gas was hydrogen sulphide, a toxic substance that smells like rotten eggs and can be fatal in high doses, the regulator said Monday. The charges are against Calgary-based natural gas producer Tourmaline Oil, a Tourmaline-controlled spinoff company called Topaz and CWC Energy Services Corp., a drilling and well-servicing company.

    The gas was released on Feb. 25, 2018, near Spirit River, a northwest Alberta town that’s a five-hour drive from Edmonton.

    In a press release, the AER didn’t elaborate on how the hydrogen sulphide affected human health. Also known as H2S or sour gas, hydrogen sulphide can sometimes leak from the wellheads, pump jacks, pipes, tanks and flare stacks of oilfields.

    The Alberta Energy Regulator has charged three companies for allegedly releasing toxic gas that “impacted human health” near a town in the northwestern region of the province in 2018.


    Halliburton Takes $2.2 Billion Charge On Shale Slump

    U.S. oilfield services firm Halliburton Co. on Tuesday disclosed a $2.2 billion charge to earnings as weakening North American shale activity continued to hit the industry.

    Halliburton has acknowledged it needs to reorganize its business in the U.S.The charge for asset impairments was centered on hydraulic fracturing and legacy drilling equipment units, and employee severance costs, the company said. Halliburton dismissed 8% of its North American staff at mid-year, and later cut staff across several western U.S. states.

    U.S. producers are pulling back on drilling and completing wells, pressured by investor demands to focus on debt reduction and returns.

    Rival Schlumberger NV on Friday said it cut more than 1,400 workers, and would idle 50% of its hydraulic fracturing equipment due to weak demand. Fracking applies high pressure to release trapped oil and gas in shale wells.

    Schlumberger last year recorded a $12-billion charge to earnings and U.S. oil major Chevron Corp took an at least $10 billion charge on projects that were no longer economic to tap.


    Jury Selected In Civil Trial Over Quinton Explosion

    A jury of nine women and five men, including alternates, was selected for the trial of consolidated lawsuits against an oil and gas contractor involved in the 2018 well fire and explosion in Quinton.

    File photoAttorneys agreed Monday to a jury in consolidated wrongful death lawsuits against National Oilwell Varco stemming from the January 2018 Pryor Trust well fire and explosion that killed five men. The trial in the case started Monday in Pittsburg County District Judge Mike Hogan’s courtroom.

    Potential jurors were asked about their knowledge of the case, if that would impact their judgment, if they were comfortable with the amount of damages in the case, if their personal beliefs would allow them to pass judgment, if they knew anyone involved in the case, and more.

    Hogan ordered Jan. 10 that files in the case were restricted from public viewing until the completion of the jury trial.

    Court documents show NOV is the last defendant listed in five lawsuits resulting from the fatal 2018 incident after five families agreed to settlements with Red Mountain Operating, LLC; Red Mountain Energy, LLC; Patterson-UTI Drilling Company, LLC; Patterson-UTI Energy Inc., and other defendants.

    Documents state NOV designed and manufactured the doghouse where the five men took shelter during the incident.


    Enterprise Offshore Drilling Laying Off Dozens Of Offshore Oil Workers

    Houston oilfield service company Enterprise Offshore Drilling is laying off more than five dozen oil-rig workers in the Gulf of Mexico.

    Houston oilfield service company Enterprise Offshore Drilling is laying off more than 60 workers assigned to an offshore rig operated by a client in the Gulf of MexicoIn a letter filed with the Texas Workforce Commission, Enterprise reported that the company is laying off 61 people working aboard Enven Energy's DD 202 offshore drilling rig about 100 miles off shore. Enven is shutting down the rig Jan. 31, Enterprise Offshore Drilling Vice President of Human Resources Amy Warner wrote in her letter.

    The layoffs began in November and are expected to be completed by the end of February.

    In a statement, EnVen said the rig release was planned and followed the successful completion of a nearly two-and-a-half-year drilling program and not as a result of a downturn.

    Houston oilfield service company Enterprise Offshore Drilling is laying off more than five dozen oil-rig workers in the Gulf of Mexico.


    Apache Corp To Close San Antonio Office, Cut 272 Jobs

    U.S. oil and gas producer Apache Corp will close its San Antonio, Texas office overseeing its struggling Alpine High project in the Permian basin and 272 jobs will be affected.

    Apache closing San Antonio office  laying off 272 workersThe closure follows the October resignation of Steven Keenan, the former senior vice president of worldwide exploration who was widely credited with the Alpine High discovery in 2016.

    Alpine High has been hit by weak natural gas prices, which prompted the company to temporarily halt production in the third quarter, reduce drilling in the region, and said it would reassign capital to other areas if prices did not recover.

    Weak commodity prices have also forced other companies in the oil and gas industry to find ways to shore up their cash reserves amid heavy investor pressure to boost returns and reduce debt.

    Reuters reported in October that oilfield services firm Halliburton cut 650 jobs across Colorado, Wyoming, New Mexico and North Dakota and later in December closed plants in Oklahoma and California.


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