With the enormous oil industry in Texas, oil rig blowouts pose a continuing problem. The State of Texas keeps track of such potentially catastrophic events and reports that Texas saw 46 blowouts over the past three years, 11 in 2018, 14 in 2017, and 24 in 2016.
Petro-Online provides the explanation of what happens when an oil rig blows: the crude oil gushes uncontrollably out of the well. If even the smallest spark, such as one from a cigarette ash, comes into contact with the gushing oil, the result could be a massive explosion and fire.
Those who work anywhere around oil know that the ground and rocks around an oil well are highly pressurized. This is because over the millions of years it takes for dead carbon-based substances like animals and plants to decay, sediments and rocks form above them and create pressure on them. The more highly pressurized the rocks and sediments, the more likelihood of a blowout.
Even though drillers pack mud around their equipment to offset all this pressure, things can get out of balance. When this occurs, it results in a “kick,” that is, water, gas or oil itself infiltrating the drill or wellbore. Once the drillers see, hear or feel the “kick,” the only thing they can do is immediately close the well before it blows.
Oil rig blowouts happen in the following three places:
- On the surface
Not surprisingly, underground blowouts happen much less frequently than the other two types. In fact, the oil in some underground blowouts never even reaches the surface. Surface blowouts represent the most common type. Even so, they seldom result in catastrophic damage to the rig or catastrophic injuries to the workers.
Underwater blowouts are the kind most feared and the ones that have the potential for causing the most environmental damage and worker death and injuries. No Texan will ever forget the 2010 Deepwater Horizon disaster in which 11 workers lost their lives and upwards of 5 million gallons of oil desecrated much of the Gulf of Mexico. This underwater blowout was one of the worst disasters in history in terms of its death toll and the amount of property damage it caused all along the costs of Florida, Alabama, Mississippi and Louisiana.