Uncontrolled Gas Caused Oil Well Blast

Friday, July 29, 2011 @ 04:07 PM gHale

Natural gas flowing uncontrolled out of a North Dakota oil well started on fire after ignition from rig engines or an electrical system which then caused an explosion, state officials said.

Cyclone Drilling, Inc. employees were working on the site 30 miles northeast of Beach when the blast occurred. Employees Tim Bergee, Jeff Morton, and Andrew Rohr of Marmarth are recovering at a Minneapolis burn center after suffering burns during the incident, Cyclone Drilling Contract Manager Patrick Hladky said.

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“They were pulling drill pipe out of the hole during the very last step of drilling the well,” when the explosion occurred, said Director of the North Dakota Department of Mineral Resources Lynn Helms.

The well has been burning ever since and will continue for a few more days, officials said. Brian Engle, vice president of public affairs for Continental Resources, which owns the well, described the flame coming out of the well as similar to a pilot light and getting weaker.

The flame will flare on occasion, sending flames as high as 40 feet in the air, he added.

Well fire specialists from Houston-based Wild Well Control Inc. are working to get it under control, Engle said.

“They are clearing equipment from the well site and preparing for what’s called near wellhead work,” he said.

Engle does not know when they will extinguish the fire, but well control operations will begin in four to six days, he said. He did not know when or if the well will be usable.

“It’s too soon to say,” Engle said. “Our first priority on this is the safety of everyone concerned, protecting the environment, bringing the well under control and that’s really our total focus.”

The well site is under restriction and members of the public cannot come within miles of it due to safety concerns, said Golden Valley County Emergency Manager Brenda Frieze.

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