Deepwater Horizon: A Firsthand Account
On Friday, April 30th 2010, an anonymous caller contacted the Mark Levin Show to clarify the events that preceded the Deepwater Horizon tragedy. Rigzone has transcribed this broadcast for your convenience. To hear the actual radio broadcast please visit www.MarkLevinShow.com.
Mark: Dallas Texas WBAP. Go right ahead, sir.
James: Just want to clear up a few things with the Petroleum Engineer, everything he said was correct. I was actually on the rig when it exploded and was at work.
Mark: Alright, let's slow down. Wait, hold on, slow down, so you were working on this rig when it exploded?
James: Yes sir.
Mark: OK, go ahead.
James: We had set the bottom cement plug for the inner casing string, which was the production liner for the well, and had set what's called a seal assembly on the top of the well. At that point, the BOP stack that he was talking about, the blow out preventer was tested. I don't know the results of that test; however, it must have passed because at that point they elected to displace the risers -- the marine riser from the vessel to the sea floor. They displaced the mud out of the riser preparing to unlatch from the well two days later and they displaced it with sea water. When they concluded the BOP stack test and the inner liner, they concluded everything was good.
Mark: Let me slow you down, let me slow you down. So they do all these tests to make sure the infrastructure can handle what's about to happen, right?
James: Correct, we're testing the negative pressure and positive pressure of the well, the casing and the actual marine riser.
Mark: OK, I'm with you. Go ahead.
James: Alright, after the conclusion of the test, they simply opened the BOP stack back up.
Mark: And the test, as best as you know, was sufficient?
James: It should have been, yes sir. They would have never opened it back up.
Mark: OK next step, go ahead.
James: Next step, they opened the annular, the upper part of the BOP stack
Mark: Which has what purpose? Why do you do that?
James: So that you can gain access back to the wellbore.
James: When you close the stack, it's basically a humongous hydraulic valve that closes off everything from below and above. It's like a gate valve on the sea floor.
James: That's a very simplistic way of explaining a BOP. It's a very complicated piece of equipment.
Mark: Basically, it's like a plug. But go ahead.
James: Correct. Once they open that plug to go ahead and start cementing the top of the well (the well bore), we cement the top, and then basically we would pull off. Another rig would slide over and do the rest of the completions work. When they opened the well is when the gas well kicked, and we took a humongous gas bubble kick up through the well bore. It literally pushed the sea water all the way to the crown of the rig, which is about 240 feet in the air.
Mark: OK, so gas got into it and blew the top off of it.
Mark: Now don't hang up. I want to continue with you because I want to ask you some questions related to this, OK? Including, has this sort of thing ever happened before, and why you think it may have happened, OK?
Mark: Alright, back to James, that's not his real name, Dallas WBAP. I'm not going to give the working title of what you did there either, James, but I wanted to finish. So, the gentleman was right about the point that obviously some gas got into the, I'll call it the funnel, OK?
James: Correct, and that's not uncommon, Mark. Anytime you're drilling an oil well, there is a constant battle between the mud weight, the drilling fluid that we use to maintain pressure, and the wellbore itself. There's a balance. The well is pushing gas one way and you are pushing mud the other way. So there is a delicate balance that has to be maintained at all times to keep the gas from coming back in, what we call the kicks. You know, we always get gas back in the mud, but the goal of the whole situation is to try to control the kick. Not allow the pressure to differentiate between the vessel and the wellbore.
Mark: Well, in this case, obviously, too much gas got in.
James: Correct, and this well had a bad history of producing lots of gas. It was touch and go a few times and was not terribly uncommon. You’re almost always going to get gas back from a well. We have systems to deal with the gas, however.
Mark: So, what may have happened here?
James: Well, the sheer volume and pressure of gas that hit all at once which was more than the safeties and controls we had in place could handle.
Mark: And that’s like a mistake on somebody's part or maybe its just Mother Nature every now and then kicks up, or what?
James: Mother Nature every now and then kicks up. The pressures that we're dealing with out there, drilling deeper, deeper water, deeper overall volume of the whole vessel itself, you’re dealing with 30 to 40 thousand pounds per square inch range -- serious pressures.
Mark: Not to offend you, but we just verified that you are who you are, which I'm sure you already knew that. I would like to hold you over to the next hour because I would like to ask a few more questions about this, as well as what happened exactly after the explosion, during the explosion and after. Can you wait with us?
James: Sure, I don't know how much of that I can share, but I'll do my best.
Mark: Alright, well I don't want to get you in trouble. So if you can stay, fine, but if you can't, we understand.
Part 2 of Mark's Interview:
Mark: We are talking to a caller under an assumed name who was on the rig when it blew up, and we've been talking about how it happened. And now James, I want to take you to the point of when it happened. What exactly happened? Where were you standing?
James: Well obviously, the gas blew the sea water out of the riser, once it displaced all of the sea water, the gas began to spill out on the deck and up through the center of the rig floor. The rig, you have to imagine a rectangle, about 400 feet by 300 feet, with the derrick and the rig floor sitting directly in the center. As this gas is now heavier than air, it starts to settle in different places. From that point, something ignited the gas, which would have caused the first major explosion.
Mark: Now, what might ignite the gas, do you know?
James: Any number of things, Mark. All rig floor equipment is what they consider intrinsically safe, meaning it cannot generate a spark, so that these types of accidents cannot occur. However, as much gas that came out as fast as it did, it would have spilled over the entire rig fairly rapidly, you know, within a minute. I would think that the entire rig would be enveloped in gas. Now a lot of this stuff, you can't smell, you can't taste it, it's just there, and it's heavier than oxygen. As it settled in, it could have made it to a space that wasn't intrinsically safe. Something as simple as static electricity could have ignited the first explosion, which set off a series of explosions.
Mark: Alright, so what happened? You're standing where? You're sitting somewhere? What happened?
James: Well, I was in a location that was a pretty good ways from the initial blast. I wasn't affected by the blast. I was able to make it out and get up forward where the life boats were. The PA system was still working. There was an announcement overhead that this was NOT a drill. Obviously, we have fire drills every single week to prepare for emergencies like this (fire and abandonment drills). Over the intercom came the order to report to life boats one and two, that this was not a drill, that there is a fire, and we proceeded that way.
Mark: So, the eleven men who died, were they friends of yours?
James: Yes sir, they were.
Mark: Did they die instantly?
James: I would have to assume so. Yes, sir. I would think that they were directly inside the bomb when it went off, the gas being the bomb.
Mark: So, the bomb being the gas explosion?
James: Correct. They would have been in the belly of the beast.
Mark: Now, let me ask you, and we have to be careful what we say because there are people that will run wild with ideas, so I just want to make sure
Mark: So, let me ask you this, why would the government send in a SWAT team to a rig? What’s that all about?
James: Well, believe it or not, its funny you would mention that. Transocean, the drilling company, maintains a SWAT team and that's their sole purpose. They're experts in their field. The BOP, the blowout preventer, they call that subsea equipment. They have their own SWAT teams that they send out to the rigs to service and maintain that equipment.
Mark: Yeah but I'm talking about what are interior SWAT teams? What is that?
James: The interior, from the government now, I don't have an idea about that, that's beyond me. The other gentleman also mentioned the USGS that comes out and does the surveys. I've been on that particular rig for three years, offshore for five years, and I've seen a USGS one time. What we do have on a very regular basis is the MMS, which is the Minerals Management Service.
Mark: They're all under the interior department.
James: OK. Yes. As a matter of fact, we were commended for our inspection record from the MMS. We are actually receiving an award from them for the highest level of safety and environmental awareness.
Mark: Well, I thought you were going to receive that award. Didn't they put it on hold?
James: No, we have actually received that award. We received it last year. We may have been ready to receive it again this year.
Mark: Let me ask you this, so the life boats, how did you get into these life boats? Where are these life boats?
James: There are actually four life boats - two forward and two on the left, depending on where the emergency or the tragedy has taken place.
Mark: Did you wind up jumping in the water to get in to the life boat? Sometimes you have to do that.
James: I'll just say that there were five to seven individuals that jumped and the rest went down in the life boats.
Mark: Alright, I won't ask because you don't want to identify yourself that clearly. Good point. How fast were the rescue efforts? How fast did they reach you?
James: It is common to have a very large work boat standing by, to bring tools out, groceries, and supplies; it's a constant turn around. So we actually have a very large vessel real close by. It was actually along the side with the hose attached, taking mud off of our vessel on its own. It had to emergency disconnect and then pull out about a mile to stand by for rescue efforts. So, it was fairly quick.
Mark: How quick till the Coast Guard got there?
James: Mark, it's hard to say, between 45 minutes to an hour is when I recall seeing the first helicopter.
Mark: Which is actually pretty fast because you are 130 miles offshore right?
James: Correct. If you look at the nearest spill of land which would be Grand Isle, Louisiana, somewhere in that area, we were only about maybe 50 miles where the crew flies up. From civilization, such as New Orleans, it would be 200 miles. The helicopter was more than likely 80 to 100 miles away.
Mark: You are going to be beset by lawyers, with the government, and others looking for an opportunity to make money. It's going to get very, very ugly and the officials going there have really no backgrounds or experience... I mean, to what extent is that going to help anything? It's silly.
James: To me it seems knee jerk. The number one focus right now is containment. I like the idea about the boom. They are going to try to lower it down into the water to capture the leak.
Mark: How long might that take? I've been reading about this boom and it says that it could take 30 days to do that.
James: It very well could. You have to remember that this is a challenging environment. You know its 5,000 feet deep, there's a tangled wreck of a rig with the marine riser still connected and twisted into a big wad down there. So it's going to take some time to get all that stuff in place. The engineering has to be there; obviously they don't want to rush into it. You want to move it expediently but you are risking the lives of those men that are going to go out there and try to attempt it - that’s just not right.
Mark: I was just going say that. That's very dangerous, I mean extremely dangerous.
James: Absolutely, absolutely. There will be oil. There will be natural gases. All the same things that caused us to explode are still present, and they're there. The pressure had been cut off dramatically, from the simple fact of the folding of the riser. Basically take this big garden hose and kink it several times.
Mark: How old is this rig? How long has it been there?
James: It was put in service in 2001. It's a fairly new rig.
Mark: And, what is the sense in shutting down every rig in the Gulf of Mexico in response to this?
James: Absolutely senseless, whatsoever. This literally could very well be a once in a lifetime freak accident, or it could be negligence. That's for other people to figure out. From my position, it just seems like every now and then, you can't win against Mother Nature. She throws a curve ball that you are not prepared for.
Mark: But to shut down every rig in response to this? I mean... I'm not sure why.
James: The BOP tests are literally mandated from the Mineral Management Service and they are conducted like clockwork. I mean, if any of those tests ever failed, they would have immediately stopped operations, sealed the well up, pulled the BOP stack back up on the deck, which is 48 hours minimum, and made the necessary repairs or replacement parts, and then would get it back down, re-connect, re-test, and keep testing it, until it passed or kept on repairing it until it passed.
Mark: So this was a… I mean this must have been harrowing to you. I mean to experience something like this.
James: That’s putting it mildly.
Mark: Anything else you want to tell me?
James: No, I just got into the truck to make a short trip and I heard a gentleman say something about possible terrorism and I want to put that to bed now. I understand you have a large audience. I appreciate your point of view. I try to listen to you as much as I can, the terrorism call just needs to leave everyone's minds and let's focus on the 11 men that are dead and the survivors. That's where the focus of this country needs to be right now.
Mark: Alright my friend, we wish you all the best and I tell you that it's really God's blessing that you survived, it really is.
James: Yes sir, I completely agree.
Mark: Alright James, thank you very much for calling and we appreciate it.
James: Thank you, Mark.
Mark: Alright, God bless.
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