US Regulators Study Drilling in Shallow Water Following Blowout in July

While the dangers inherent in drilling in deep water may seem obvious, shallow-water drilling is not without risks, too. In August 2009, for example, a blowout occurred at the Montara oil rig in 240 feet of water off the Kimberley coast of Australia. Over a 10-week period, workers made several unsuccessful attempts to cap the well before a relief well was eventually drilled to stop the leak. During that time, millions of gallons of oil leaked into the sea, eventually covering an area of almost 25,000 square miles.

The recent well blowout at Walter Oil & Gas’ South Timbalier 220 natural gas A-3 well offshore Louisiana, and the loss of control just a few weeks earlier of the natural gas well B2, owned by Energy Resource Technology, LLC (ERT), have reminded regulators that incidents can also occur in shallow-water drilling.  

In the most recent incident, forty-four workers were successfully evacuated without injury, a Hercules spokesperson told Rigzone. Because the Walters A-3 well is a natural gas well, a sheen that was seen on the water in flyovers following the blowout quickly evaporated.

However, the leak at the well led to a fire on the rig that caused significant damage by collapsing the rig derrick. The well leak was stopped when a mixture of sand and sediment plugged the wellbore opening in a natural process called bridging.

The blowout at A-3 prompted the Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement (BSEE) to form a Panel Investigation regarding the causes of the initial leak. The BSEE is also studying possible changes to blowout preventers.

A blowout preventer that failed almost a mile down played a large role in the Deepwater Horizon disaster at BP plc’s Macondo well. However, blowout preventers can fail during shallow-water drilling, and James Watson, BSEE director, addressed the topic in a press release.

“While many consider shallow water operations to be less technically challenging in many cases than those occurring in deep water, they are not without risk, and the industry must not become complacent, Watson said. “Offshore workers need to be empowered to take actions to save lives when they see a leading indicator that something is wrong.”


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