No one need tell Texas oil rig workers that they face danger on a daily basis. They also are at high risk of catastrophic injuries if an oil rig accident occurs. While major disasters do not occur nearly as often in today’s oil fields as they did “back in the day,” such things as oil rig blowouts still happen fairly frequently. The State of Texas reports that 21 blowouts occurred in 2016, 14 in 2017, and two in January of 2018.
As explained by Petro-Online, a blowout is what happens when crude oil gushes from a well accidentally and uncontrollably. Should the oil touch even a single spark, the whole rig can explode.
Oil is a naturally-occurring substance that forms deep in the ground over millions of years. Originally a collection of organic carbon-based substances such as plants and animals, these substances slowly turn into oil as their water is pressed out by the enormous pressure of the rocks and sediments that form on top of them. Consequently, the rock formations around oil reservoirs are highly pressurized.
Drillers put mud around drilling sites to counteract and counterbalance all this pressure. If the balance fails, oil, gas and/or water infiltrates the drill or the wellbore, causing a “kick.” If the well is not immediately closed while the drill entry point is isolated and fixed and the escaping fluid or gas that infiltrated it is safely evacuated, the well “blows.”
There are three types of blowouts: underground, surface and underwater. Any one of them can occur at any time during the drilling process. Underground blowouts happen rarely and occur deep in the ground when highly pressurized fluid flows upward into rock formations with lower pressure. The fluid may not even reach the ground above. Surface blowouts occur much more frequently, but normally are not catastrophic. Usually they damage the rig and the surrounding terrain, but do not injure the oil field workers.
Underwater blowouts cause the most problems because of the very fact that they occur deep underwater. Most Texans still vividly remember the infamous 2010 Deepwater Horizon disaster in the Gulf of Mexico. Eleven workers died and upwards of 4.9 million barrels of oil spilled into the Gulf when the mechanical and electronic blowout preventers failed to work properly and stop the blowout before it happened.
At best, oil rig blowouts cause millions of dollars in property and environmental damage. At worst, they can and do catastrophically injure and kill the very workers who spend their days trying to prevent them and other oil rig accidents.