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Improperly Sealed Well Cited in Deadly Oklahoma Drilling Rig Explosion that Left 5 Dead


An improperly sealed natural gas well may have contributed to a deadly rig explosion that killed 5 Oklahoma oilfield workers last January, according to investigators from the U.S. Chemical Safety Board.

Oklahoma Explosion Was Deadliest Since 2010 Deepwater Horizon Disaster

The January 22nd explosion outside of Quinton occurred shortly before 9:00 a.m. at a natural gas well being drilled by Houston, Texas contractor Patterson-UTI for Oklahoma City-based Red Mountain Operating.

The bodies of 5 contract workers reported missing immediately after the blast were recovered the following afternoon:

  • Matt Smith, 29, of McAlester, Oklahoma
  • Parker Waldridge, 60, of Crescent, Oklahoma
  • Roger Cunningham, 55, of Seminole, Oklahoma
  • Josh Ray, 35 of Fort Worth, Texas
  • Cody Risk, 26, of Wellington, Colorado

The disaster stands as the deadliest drilling accident in the United States since the Deepwater Horizon explosion killed 11 offshore workers in April 2010.

CSB Investigator Notes “Strong Indication of Potential Gas Influx” Just Prior to Explosion

According to a Factual Update released yesterday by CSB investigators, the explosion occurred shortly after drilling crew members removed the drill pipe from the well in a process known as “tripping.” However, it appears as though the pipe was removed before it was fully emptied of the “mud” that was being used to seal the well.

The report further notes that crews had turned on the well’s mud pumps at 8:09 a.m. However, between 7:57 a.m. and 8:35 a.m., the mud pits had already accumulated 107 barrels of mud.

“The gain is a strong indication of potential gas influx into the well bore for the crew members,” CSB lead investigator Lauren Grim said during a Thursday afternoon media briefing. “Oftentimes, when a gain like that is seen, general guidance suggests you stop operations.”

Investigators Testing Blowout Preventer, Working to ID Ignition Source

A Patterson-UTI crew member saw mud flowing out of the well’s open blowout preventer stack at 8:35 a.m. The gas and oil-based mud ignited one minute later.

CSB investigators continue to search for the ignition source.

Testing also continues on the rig’s blowout preventer to determine why it failed.

OSHA Fines Patterson-UTI, Other Contractors $118,000 in Connection with Oklahoma Rig Explosion

The release of the CSB update comes just weeks after the U.S. Occupational Health & Safety Administration (OSHA) fined Patterson-UTI, Crescent Consulting LLC, and Skyline Directional Drilling LLC more than $118,000 in connection with the fatal explosion.

Patterson-UTI and Crescent Consulting were cited for failing to maintain proper controls while drilling a well, inspect slow descent devices, and implement emergency response plans.

All three contractors were cited for failing to ensure that heat lamps in use were approved for hazardous locations.

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