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Oil Rig Explosion in Gulf of Mexico – The Deepwater Horizon


The explosion tragedy on board the Deepwater Horizon drilling rig in the Gulf of Mexico has reminded many of us who work on offshore oil drilling rigs just how dangerous deepwater oil exploration can be. It is hard to forget those dramatic images on the TV media outlets of the stricken rig burning out of control before finally sinking a few days later on the 22nd April at 17.30 hours beneath the waters of the Gulf.

The thoughts and prayers of many are with the 11 rig worker families who did not survive the rig explosion as well as with the other 17 people who sustained injuries, with three of these being critical. My own memories of a major rig explosion that I survived many years ago came flooding back. Many of us within the offshore drilling business have worked for Transocean at some time and we are all deeply saddened and in shock at the tragic events that have affected the company.

The DP deepwater drilling rig is owned by Transocean and was contracted to drill for the BP oil company. The Transocean company is the largest offshore drilling contractor in the world with 140 offshore drilling units operating worldwide. The Minerals Management Service announced that 90 offshore drilling rigs are currently working in U.S. waters and within the Gulf of Mexico. Current daily oil production is approximately 1.7 million barrels a day. In addition gas production is around 6.6 billion cubic feet each day.

The Deepwater Horizon rig was performing drilling activities in the Macondo Prospect for oil major BP at a location of around 52 miles southeast of Venice, Louisiana. The company BP also have other partners in this operation that include MOEX Offshore who have a 10% share along with Anadarko who hold 25% interest in the drillingoperation.

Prior to the rig explosion the rig had had evidently completed the setting and cementing of the well bore 7″ steel casing. The following events caused a major rig explosion and subsequent fire at 10.00 pm on April 20, 2010. The rig was performing drilling activities in a total water depth of 6940 feet and had drilled the well to a depth of 18,360 feet.

Following the explosion, the U.S. Coast Guard launched a major search effort for the 11 missing rig crew and up to six firefighting vessels stood by the burning rig to try and contain the massive fire. The US Coast Guard dispatched helicopters from New Orleans and Mobile to evacuate rig workers and also to assist in the search for the missing crew. Four USCG cutters were also mobilized to the scene.

There were many people with little or no offshore drilling knowledge and experience who immediately starting to speculate on the causes behind the disaster. Some questioned the safety record of the rig while others immediately apportioned blame on the oil company BP. It must be understood that BP are not the rig owners or operators, that is the drilling contractor Transocean. The Deepwater Horizon had a good track record and was well proven. One media statement said that the rig had passed 3 safety audits and inspections in 2010 and that immediately prior to the explosion there was no indication of any on board problems.

It is important to understand that major fires and explosions on offshore drilling rigs are relatively rare. Rigs are specifically designed with safety and fire prevention as a priority at the design and construction stage. The outbreak of fire on board an offshore rig or a ship is the worst event for crew. Safety is the absolute priority with respect to all operations and activities, as crew evacuation in an emergency is not easy. Drilling and offshore companies always seek and hire experienced workers for a very good reason. Following the explosion the Minerals Management Service said that a total of 39 fires or explosions occurred offshore within the Gulf of Mexico in first five month period of 2009, however all of these events were subsequently categorized as either minor or incidental.

Follow the next articles on this tragic event as the oil pollution crisis grows and the political and industry fallout continues, where drilling procedures will be explained along with other useful information. The writer John Payne has over 35 years in the maritime and offshore oil industries and currently works for an offshore drilling company. He is also the author of the new book Piracy Today which is available through Amazon.

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