Quinton Gas Well Drilling Company Knew Rig Was Unsafe Before Blowout, Fire That Killed Five, Amended Lawsuit Claims
December 11, 2018
A “cascade of errors and multiple departures from safe drilling practices” primed the gas well near Quinton for a blowout, with vital safety equipment known to be in disrepair that could have prevented the deaths of five workers, according to a recent court filing.
More than 1,000 alarms allegedly were triggered on the rig during a 10-hour period in January, with nearly 100 of them indicating a problem with control of the well. But the alarms purportedly had been disabled, and no one heard them.
A lawsuit, amended for a second time Dec. 4, alleges that the drilling company didn’t act upon its own documents that indicated a crucial safety device to close the well in an emergency was in “severe disrepair.”
Two related lawsuits were updated in October, centering on accusations that the well operator disregarded “proven and successful” drilling programs in favor of a more lucrative but risky plan.
The drilling company is Patterson-UTI Drilling, which was contracted by Red Mountain Energy, the well’s owner. In addition to those two companies, National Oilwell Varco and Crescent Consulting are listed as defendants in each lawsuit.
The latest amended lawsuit centers on accusations that Patterson-UTI engaged in unsafe drilling practices and ignored established protocols during an overnight operation to pull drill pipe from the well and replace the bottom-hole assembly.
The day crew “inherited a ticking time bomb” after natural gas flowed into the well during the pipe-removal process, according to the lawsuit.
“Patterson Drilling had the most direct control over the drilling operations and emergency response to changing conditions and failed to use ordinary care with respect to its conduct,” the lawsuit alleges.
The lawsuit draws attention to failings of the accumulator, a crucial piece of safety equipment.
The accumulator functions to close the blocks of steel — or blind rams — that shut in a well to prevent the uncontrolled release of fluids. The U.S. Chemical Safety and Hazard Investigation Board has determined that the blind rams didn’t fully close.
At least two days before the blowout, the rig superintendent, manager and several other Patterson employees received email results of a laboratory test, according to the lawsuit. Warnings came with a “skull and crossbones graphic (literally)” and noted that the accumulator’s hydraulic fluid had lost all viscosity, with additional concerns about the device’s inner workings.
Patterson-UTI’s documents reveal that as early as four months beforehand the accumulator showed signs of improper maintenance and mechanical deficiencies, the lawsuit contends.
“The standard of care required that the Well be shut-in if the Accumulator was in disrepair,” the lawsuit states. “Instead, Patterson ignored the problem and did nothing. As a result, Patterson’s failure to act rendered its Accumulator — a mission-critical piece of safety equipment — unfit for use.”
In a statement, Tony Say, Red Mountain’s president, assigned blame to Patterson-UTI for the well blowout.
“The facts cited in the amended petition demonstrate exactly which parties failed to perform basic safety procedures prior to this accident,” Say wrote. “Their gross negligence led to a terrible tragedy, which could have been prevented. Red Mountain remains committed to the highest safety standards, which will always be our top priority.”
In response, Patterson-UTI Drilling stated that it “strongly disputes these inflammatory allegations.”
“It is important to note that Red Mountain was the lease holder and operator of the well, which was drilled under its direction, supervision and control,” Patterson-UTI said. “Red Mountain was also responsible for the well’s design and drilling program. As a company, we remain committed to preventing an accident like this from happening again.”
The blowout and resulting fire killed Roger Cunningham, 55, of Seminole; Josh Ray, 35, of Fort Worth, Texas; Cody Risk, 26, of Wellington, Colorado; Matt Smith, 29, of McAlester; and Parker Waldridge, 60, of Crescent. Their remains were found in the “doghouse” — a room on the derrick where drilling operations take place.
Each man’s family or estate has filed a wrongful death lawsuit in Pittsburg County District Court. A sixth lawsuit has been filed by Kevin Carrillo, who survived the blowout but suffered serious injuries — some of which he says are permanent.
The latest amended lawsuit was filed by Waldridge’s family.
Source: Tulsa World