The natural gas drilling rig off the Louisiana coast that blew up on Tuesday appears stable now, thanks to the fire snuffing itself out. While the fire is out, the owner of the rig is still eyeing whether a relief well is required, how to permanently cap the well, how the accident happened in the first place, and why the blowout preventer failed to operate.
The rig blew up when the Hercules 265 well hit an unexpected pocket of natural gas while preparing the well for production. Forty-four workers were evacuated from the rig without injury at the time.
The Hercules 265 well, located about 60 miles off Grand Isle Louisiana, in 154 feet of water, was first constructed in 1982. It was certified for operation until the Summer of 2017 by the American Bureau of Shipping and the Coast Guard. The blowout preventer was installed in November 2010.
The platform at the Hercules 265 well was not producing natural gas at the time of the accident. A drilling rig was parked next to the platform and drilling a “sidetrack well,” meaning they were attempting to access a different part of the natural gas reserves.
The well capped itself, or “bridged over,” by becoming clogged with sand and sediment. The fire was largely extinguished by Thursday, and the amount of the raw fuel spill was minor.
“Our efforts will now turn to, first, confirming the conditions at the well site, and then to assisting in Walter’s effort to permanently secure and seal the well. We will then focus on a precise analysis of the facts that led to this incident,” said Jim Noe, a vice president with the rig owner Hercules Offshore Inc. “Walter” is Walter Oil and Gas who was renting the drilling rig.
The investigation into the blowout is being overseen by the Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement. BSEE Director James Watson has been in Houston, Texas, and Houma, La., for the past two days overseeing the response to the accident. On Thursday, Director Watson met with representatives of Walter Oil & Gas Corporation and Hercules Offshore, Inc., emphasizing the Bureau’s focus on the safety of offshore workers involved in the operation and the protection of the environment.
“BSEE has already initiated an investigation into the root causes of this incident, and our focus at this time remains on the ongoing response,” Director Watson said. “All of the workers aboard the platform were safely evacuated before the fire, but complex operations to completely secure the well will be ongoing over the coming weeks and those must be conducted safely and cautiously. Tuesday’s event and other recent incidents serve as a reminder that industry must rededicate its efforts to make safety its top priority, including in shallow water.”
Gas detectors and high-capacity water jet fire monitors will be installed on the rig for contingency purposes. BSEE is approving procedures for preparation work that includes site debris clearance necessary for well intervention. Well intervention work at the site will be conducted from a barge adjacent to the well.
Walter Oil & Gas has contracted the Rowan EXL-3 jack-up rig to potentially drill a relief well. The BSEE is reviewing a permit application for the relief well.
An aerial inspection on Friday showed a continued slight sheen on the water, that is dissipating quickly. Firefighting and other marine vessels are on site with personnel from Walter, Hercules, and other professional engineering contractors, and relevant federal agencies.
The 225-foot Coast Guard Cutter Cypress is onsite to assess the situation and enforce the 500-meter security zone around the rig.