Gas Leak Ignites, Collapses Rig


Natural gas from a drilling rig leaked for 14 hours before igniting and partially collapsing the structure off the coast of Louisiana on Tuesday (July 23).

All 44 crew members aboard the rig were safely evacuated Tuesday afternoon and no injuries have been reported. The cause of the leak has not been determined.

Owned by Hercules Offshore Inc., the 250-foot, mat-supported cantilevered Hercules 265 jackup drilling rig is currently operating for Walter Oil & Gas Corporation.

The drilling rig is located 55 miles off the shore of Louisiana in the Gulf of Mexico in 154 feet of water in the same drilling region where BP's Deepwater Horizon offshore rig exploded in April 2010, killing 11 workers and causing the largest offshore spill in history.

Cloud of Gas

The rig "experienced a loss of control" at approximately 8:45 a.m. CT Tuesday on an unmanned platform while doing completion work on the sidetrack well to prepare for production, according to the Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement (BSEE).

No oil (only gas) had been released, according to a statement on Tuesday from Walter Oil & Gas.

BSEE inspectors performed an overflight during the day Tuesday and reported a cloud of natural gas above the rig and a light sheen on the water about one-half mile by 50 feet, which had dissipated by the evening.

At approximately 10:45 p.m. CT Tuesday, the natural gas flowing from the well ignited, spreading to the rig, Hercules Offshore said in a statement.


On Wings of Care, a nonprofit organization dedicated to environmental protection and preservation, captured this video of natural gas leaking from the rig.

The fire caused the beams supporting the derrick and rig floor to fold and collapse over the rig structure, BSEE announced in an update Wednesday.

Two firefighting vessels were in the area and had to be moved back to a safer distance from the fire. A third vessel, equipped with fire-fighting capability and improved monitoring system, was enroute Wednesday morning.

Experts from Wild Well Control Inc., a firefighting, well control and related engineering services company, was hired to try to bring the well under control.

"BSEE's efforts today are focused on bringing the loss of well control event to a safe resolution," said Lars Herbst, BSEE Gulf of Mexico Regional Director, in a press release.

BSEE has directed Walter Oil & Gas to begin preparations to move a jackup rig on location to drill a relief well to cut off the natural gas.

"Offshore oil and gas operators need to reaffirm their aggressive approach to the safety of well operations in light of this event and recent well control events," Herbst said.

The U.S. Coast Guard was on hand to provide safety management oversight. BSEE will be conducting an investigation into the cause of the incident.

Taking Necessary Precaution

While Hercules Offshore said it is working with regulatory authorities to determine the cause of the incident, immediate focus was on stopping the flow of natural gas from the well.

"Our first and foremost concern is for the safety of all personnel aboard our drilling rig and we have taken every necessary precaution to safely evacuate the rig," said John T. Rynd, CEO and president of Hercules Offshore, in a statement on Tuesday.

"Furthermore, efforts are ongoing with our client, Walter Oil & Gas, to mobilize the necessary resources to regain control of the well and minimize any potential impact on the environment," Rynd said.

The rig's rated drilling depth is 25,000 feet, according to Hercules Offshore. The company's rigs drill to water depths between 15,000 and 35,000 feet.

Hercules Offshore is headquartered in Houston, TX, and operates a fleet of 40 jackup rigs and 13 posted and conventional barge drilling rigs. The company provides drilling, well service, platform inspection, maintenance and decommissioning operations for oil and gas producers worldwide.


Tagged categories: Accidents; Explosions; Fire; Health & Safety; Offshore; Oil and Gas

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