Uncontrolled Gas Release OK Rig Blast Cause

Tuesday, January 30, 2018 @ 11:01 AM gHale

An initial report found an uncontrolled release of gas appeared to be the cause of the Jan. 22 explosion of an Oklahoma drilling rig.

An uncontrolled release of gas caught fire at an Oklahoma gas rig while a worker at the scene tried to shut down the well which killed five workers Jan. 22.

Those were the initial findings in an incident report filed right after the Jan. 22 blast.

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The initial incident report into the explosion indicates there was an uncontrolled release of gas that caught fire and that a worker at the scene tried unsuccessfully to shut down the well.

The report, released Jan. 23 by the Oklahoma Corporation Commission, which regulates oil and gas operations in the state, is just an initial assessment, said agency spokesman Matt Skinner.

“The investigation is ongoing, and there will undoubtedly be more added to the report,” Skinner said.

The report came out after officials recovered the remains of five gas rig workers who had been missing since a fiery explosion in eastern Oklahoma a day earlier.

Pittsburg County Sheriff Chris Morris said once the natural gas drilling rig was stabilized following the blast and subsequent fires, employees from the state medical examiner’s office went into the wreckage and recovered the bodies in about two hours.

“The bodies were located in the area where they were presumed to be working in, what they call the ‘dog house,'” Morris said, referring to a room on the rig floor that generally serves as an office for the drilling crew.

He said state and federal investigators will work with the companies involved to determine how the blast occurred.

The workers who were killed include three from Oklahoma, Matt Smith of McAlester, Parker Waldridge of Crescent and Roger Cunningham from Seminole – and two from other states, Josh Ray of Fort Worth, TX; and Cody Risk of Wellington, CO.

Three of the workers were employed by Houston-based Patterson-UTI Energy Inc. Company President and Chief Executive Andy Hendricks pledged a full investigation into the explosion.

“We want to learn from this,” Hendricks said. “We don’t want this to happen again for anybody in our industry.”

The explosion at the drilling site near Quinton sent plumes of black smoke into the air and left a derrick crumpled on the ground. For much of the day of the blast, emergency officials were unable to get near the rig because the fire was still burning. The fire was extinguished later on that night.

Authorities said 16 people who were on the site at the time of the blast escaped without major injuries. One person was airlifted to a hospital.

The explosion is setback to Patterson-UTI’s efforts to repair what was one of the worst safety records in the industry. During the 2000s, Patterson-UTI had more fatalities at its worksite than any other U.S. energy company. One report found 12 workers died at the company’s Texas drilling sites from 2003 through 2007.

The accidents didn’t cease after the report, although they’ve been less frequent, according to records from the U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA). One worker was crushed in November 2010 at a rig site southwest of San Antonio near Cotulla. In August 2011, there was another fatality at a Patterson rig near Carrizo Springs.

In April 2012, a worker in South Texas’ Eagle Ford shale fell 50 feet to his death from a Patterson rig, which federal inspectors later noted had “excess crude oil or oil-based liquids visible on the beams.” Last year, in August, there was a fatal accident at a Patterson-UTI rig site near Rankin in West Texas.

Hendricks, who joined Patterson-UTI as CEO in 2012, said the company has worked hard to improve safety, spending about $150 million in the last decade on safety training and equipment upgrades. Every worker has “stop work” authority to halt activity if they believe safety is at risk, he said.

“Certainly, for me and the leadership we have today, safety is the top priority,” Hendricks said, declining to comment much on the company’s previous safety record. “There have been cases in the past, but I think the record shows – certainly in the last few years – we’ve been one of the safest companies in the industry.”

The Oklahoma well was operated by Red Mountain, a small Oklahoma production company. The rig worked at the well for about 10 days and drilled 13,500 feet underground – roughly 2.5 miles – when the explosion occurred, said Red Mountain Chief Executive Tony Say.

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