Understanding oil rig blowouts

Oil rig blowouts occur all too frequently in Texas, and when they do, the result can be catastrophic, both in terms of human death and injury and in property damage. The State of Texas reports that 37 blowouts occurred during the past three years: 21 in 2016, 14 in 2017 and two so far this year.

Petro-Online explains that a blowout occurs when crude oil uncontrollably gushes from a well. The result can be a huge explosion and fire should a minor spark such as that from a cigarette ash ignite the gushing oil.

Blowout factors

Oil forms naturally deep in the ground, taking millions of years to do so as the original dead plants and animals, all organic carbon-based substances, get squeezed of their water by the rocks and sediments that build up over them and press down on them with terrific force.

All the rocks and sediments above and around an oil deposit are highly pressurized. Drillers must therefore pack mud around their equipment to counteract and counterbalance all that pressure. Should the pressure become out of balance, the result is a “kick,” i.e., oil, gas or water infiltrating the wellbore or drill. At this point, the well must be closed immediately before it blows.

Types of blowouts

Blowouts come in three types as follows:

  1. Underground
  2. Surface
  3. Underwater

Underground blowouts are the most rare types. In many of them, the oil never reaches the surface. Surface blowouts occur much more frequently, but seldom cause catastrophic damage either to the rig or to workers. Unfortunately, underwater blowouts account for the worst human and property damage. Most Texans still vividly remember the terrible Deepwater Horizon disaster eight years ago that killed 11 workers and dumped nearly 5 million gallons of oil into the Gulf.

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