Oilfield Blowouts and Explosions
While oilfield workers regularly face hazards on the job, few are as devastating and harmful as a blowout.
What is an Oilfield Blowout?
A blowout describes the uncontrolled release of oil or gas from a well due to the failure of its pressure control system.
Blowouts are typically proceeded by an uncontrolled “kick,” or the “undesirable entry of formation fluids into casing or tubing” that occurs when formation pressures exceed workover fluid hydrostatic pressures, causing formation fluids (gas, oil, or condensate) to flow into the wellbore.
While well blowouts can occur at offshore drilling operations (for example, the Deepwater Horizon catastrophe), surface blowouts on oilfields are far more common. In addition to the liquids and gases that escape from the well, rocks, mud, and sand are also likely to be propelled into the air during a surface blowout.
The release of oil, gas, and other hydrocarbons in a blowout can devastate the surrounding environment and pose a significant threat to the safety of oilfield workers, particularly those on or near the oil rig, as they are at greatest risk of serious and fatal burn injuries.
Blowouts in United States Oilfields Occur Much More Frequently than Expected
While oil and gas companies are required to follow American Petroleum Institute (API) rules, U.S. Occupational Safety & Health Administration (OSHA) regulations, and company safety policies that are intended to prevent blowouts, these disasters remain an all-too-common occurrence at oilfields across the United States.
One of the worst in recent history occurred in January 2017, when the failure to activate a blowout preventer led to a deadly explosion in Pittsburg County, Oklahoma, that tragically claimed the lives of five oilfield workers. The uncontrolled release of gas fed the resulting fire for hours, preventing first responders from searching for the men, all of whom had initially been reported as missing.
In February 2020, a blowout at a Burleson County, Texas, oilfield left three workers dead and sent another to the hospital with third-degree burns to over 60 percent of his body.
Through our investigation, our Oilfield Explosion Lawyers—who represented the surviving worker and recovered the #1 Largest Oilfield Injury Settlement in US History on his behalf—discovered that the operator violated company safety policies and API requirements by failing to utilize a mechanical and hydrostatic barrier to properly kill the well before beginning workover operations.
Most recently, a blowout at a Bakersfield, California, oilfield caused a worker to suffer critical injuries to his legs.
What Causes Oilfield Blowouts and Explosions?
While all blowouts technically begin with a kick, there are usually other contributing factors, such as:
- Equipment failure: Malfunctioning blowout preventers, valves, pumps, and other equipment frequently trigger blowouts.
- Human error: Mistakes can be deadly on an oilfield. For example, many blowouts result from a failure to follow shut-in procedures at the first sign of a kick.
- Natural disasters: Events such as hurricanes and earthquakes can damage equipment on an oil rig, leading to a blowout.
- Reservoir conditions: If the pressure in the reservoir is too high, the well may rupture, resulting in an uncontrolled release.
- Well design: Poorly designed wells can also be a factor in blowouts. For example, the risk of a blowout increases when a well is not cemented correctly or if the casing is not strong enough.
To reduce the risk of a catastrophic blowout, it’s essential that oilfield operators follow all mandated safety protocols and industry best practices, including:
- Regular maintenance and inspection: Regular inspections will ensure that the blowout preventer and other safety equipment are functional and working as intended.
- Proper well control procedures: By following proper well control procedures, drillers can detect issues and take corrective action before they result in an uncontrolled “kick” and trigger a blowout.
- Training and education: Everyone involved in oil and gas production must understand the risks and know how to work safely. Oilfield employers are required to provide workers and contractors with regular training, including pre-job and daily JSAs and safety briefings.
- Compliance with regulations and standards: Compliance with safety regulations and industry standards help ensure that safe practices are followed and minimize the risks of a blowout.
What to Do If You or a Loved One Are Injured in a Blowout
Well blowouts are among the most dangerous incidents that can occur on an oilfield, as the resulting explosion, fire, and toxic releases can result in severe and fatal injuries, including third and fourth degree burns, lung and respiratory problems, fractures, and trauma to the spine and brain.
While blowout-related injuries are often life-changing for workers and their families, many victims mistakenly assume that their workers’ comp benefits will cover all their lost wages and medical expenses, or that their employer will step in and take care of them and their families.
Unfortunately, this is rarely the case. In fact, in our experience, workers comp never comes close to covering all of an injured worker’s medical expenses and lost wages.
And as far as the oilfield company is concerned, they’re only interested in avoiding responsibility, even if that means blaming workers for the blowout and “losing” or misplacing critical evidence proving that the company was at fault.
So, what should you do if you or a loved one were injured in a well blowout or oilfield accident?
- Notify Your Employer: it’s important to notify your employer right away. Traumatic injuries aren’t always immediately apparent, while failure to make a timely notification can provide your employer with a reason to question the severity of any injuries
- Demand Immediate Medical Care of Your Choice: demand immediate medical attention, even if you don’t think you were hurt or your injuries appear minor. And remember, you have a right to see the doctor of your choice. You are not obligated to see the doctors and medical providers chosen by your employer or its insurer, and it’s in your best interest not to do so.
- Write Down All You Can Remember: once you’ve taken care of your immediate medical needs, you should take some time to write everything you remember about the blowout, no matter how trivial a detail might seem. Also write down the names and contact information of anyone else who might have witnessed the incident.
- Preserve Evidence: preserve the clothes you were wearing at the time and any other physical evidence in your possession. These items should be placed in a clean, plastic bag, unlaundered and unaltered in any way. If you have access to the area where you were injured, take photos and video of the scene or equipment involved in the incident.
- Don’t Agree to or Accept Anything: you should never, under any circumstances, agree to provide a formal statement, sign anything, or accept any money other than your regular paycheck before speaking with an experienced oilfield injury lawyer who’s successfully gone up against the largest oil and gas companies in the world.
- Follow Doctor’s Orders: complying with medical advice and attending all your doctor and therapy appointments is vital to your physical recovery. But if you fail to follow your treatment plan, you’ll also give your employer and its insurance company the opportunity to challenge your credibility and question the severity of your injuries.
- Contact an Experienced Oilfield Injury Lawyer: you should never attempt to negotiate with the oilfield company or its insurance company on your own. An experienced oilfield injury lawyer will understand the tactics the company will try to use to avoid responsibility, know how to locate and preserve vital evidence, and can ensure that you and your family receive the maximum compensation possible for your injuries and financial losses.
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If you or a loved one were seriously injured or tragically killed in an oilfield blowout, accident, or explosion, call 1-888-603-3636, use the “chat” button on our homepage, or click here to send us a confidential email through our “Contact Us” form.
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