An Outpost of Progress – The Narrative – BLOWOUT!


Bill Leach near the New Mexico well blowout May 10, 1936

Bill Leach near the New Mexico well blowout May 10, 1936

Steve Leach graduated from the New Mexico School of Mines in 1935 as a geologist and promptly went to work in a mine. Within his first year in the mine the shaft started to flood and the miners had to evacuate via ladders – many of them with rotten rungs – through the escape tunnels. Steve Leach promptly parlayed his geology degree into a job at Humble Oil and never went back into another mine. When Bill Leach graduated from the School of Mines his degree was in mining engineering but other than a brief stint of prospecting along the Durango-Silverton rail line – probably just some friends having a post graduation lark that ended with the onset of the first snow – he spent almost his entire career in the petroleum industry.

Gulf Oil New Mexico Blowout, Eunice, New Mexico

Gulf Oil New Mexico Blowout, Eunice, New Mexico

There are those who are politically Green and actually, still in their salad days, very green of judgement who insist on referring to mining and petroleum exploration and production in a derisive manner as extraction industries. I suppose the phrase is supposed to bring the same twinge to the reader that a visit to the dentist to have a tooth pulled would and although listening to those who are Green – especially the green ones – is about as comfortable as a dental extraction the dentist, like the plumber, is a necessary evil. As for mining and drilling for coal or for oil those things are so necessary to the continuation of our civilization that the restrictions that the green Greens propose are tantamount to genocide in their net effect.

Three inch diameter drill pipe woven through the remains of the derrick by the force of the blowout.

Three inch diameter drill pipe woven through the remains of the derrick by the force of the blowout.

As both Steve and Bill Leach found out in long careers any job that requires real work has more than its fair share of physical danger involved for the workers. For the oil exploration and production business the biggest dangers came from blowouts. Coal and oil are both fuels and are volatile – oil more so than coal.  Mining has its share of disasters caused by gas explosions inside of mines that are relatively shallow compared to oil drilling. Drilling consists of going down thousands of feet through multiple formations any of which may contain gas or oil under greater pressure than the drilling equipment can suppress. When that happens you get a blowout with the ever-present danger of ignition of the released oil or gas which can do anything from burn out the immediate well to a whole production field.

The drillers hit a gas pocket at 2,410 feet and everything blew upward. Kelly, the driller pictured, was on the derrick floor and was lifted 50' above the top of what was a 122' derrick and survived - although deafened.

The drillers hit a gas pocket at 2,410 feet and everything blew upward. Kelly, the driller pictured, was on the derrick floor and was lifted 50′ above the top of what was a 122′ derrick and survived – although deafened.

Bill Leach had seen the results of a blowout while still in New Mexico and in this week’s entry  he will recount has first hand experience in Venezuela. Since the improvements in drilling technique and the introduction of blowout preventers in 1924 – and their constant improvement since – blowouts have become more and more the fault of operator error. Like traffic accidents they continue to decline but also like traffic accidents – which don’t stop the rest of us from driving – they do not stop the necessary business of fueling a world that would very quickly grind to a bankrupt halt if it were run on Green energy.

Blowout at Temblador number 12

Blowout at Temblador number 12

April 19th.  Had a rather exciting day and also a close shave at that. Went to Hato No.6 where they were running casing and had parked the car close to the casing rack and then went on the derrick floor just to see what was going on; remained there for a few minutes and then decided to go over to Hato Gathering Station No. 5 where I had originally planned to go to check upon material that was used in the construction of the station.

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Blowout at Temblador number 31

Well, it is only a stone’s throw south of the well and takes only about a minute to get there.  I had just parked the car and had done about 50 feet and started checking up on the material and had written down only four items and was looking up to see what was to be the next item and as my line of vision was in the direction of the well that I had just left, my eye caught a movement in the derrick; in a split second I heard a sort of a rolling noise, and before one could even think the derrick and all of the drill pipe in the derrick started coming down.  It was funny to see about twenty men running off the derrick floor in the direction of the boilers. Luckily no one was hurt; they were more scared than hurt.  When that derrick came down it came down with a bang. Before long the whole camp was there.

Maturin number 1 well after blowout and fire. Glare of fire visible over 60 miles away. Well cratered about 225' across and 30 feet deep.

Maturin number 1 well after blowout and fire. Glare of fire visible over 60 miles away. Well cratered about 225′ across and 30 feet deep.

I went over to see the damage and you could imagine my feelings when I saw where that derrick fell.  It fell just where I had the car parked. It scraped the back end of a Ford truck that was also parked there. It was a good think that I did not sit in the car where I had it parked.  Such things happen so quickly that one does not have time to collect his senses and react fast enough to get out of the way.

Quiriquire number 128. Remains of derrick aftet well blowout.

Quiriquire number 128. Remains of derrick after well blowout.

In falling almost everything was practically pushed into the ground. The Crown Block dug itself about two feet into the ground and would have gone deeper if the pipe rack had not acted as sort of a cushion. All of the 3000 feet of drill pipe was ruined as was the derrick and the remainder of the equipment.  For me the excitement was a little too close for comfort and after this when I make up my mind to go anywhere I’ll always do so without any hesitation at all.

… me if I had lingered in my car even for a few minutes.  The crown block dug a hole almost 3 feet into the ground. This excitement was a little too close for comfort so I just remained in camp the rest of the day. Had a rather busy and exciting day on August 2.  Got up at 1:30 a.m. to go to H.G. Sta 5 where we had a fire. An oil and gas separator diaphragm stem was broken in a secondary valve and by-passed all the oil but to the vent line where oil was burning and spraying in all directions. Keep pretty busy closing in all wells flowing into the station until early morning. After the fire was out we started flowing the wells again but had to blow all the oil out of the vent line.  The station with all its equipment certainly was a mess.  Continued working 22 hours this day and was glad when I finally went to bed.

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