Failure of 2 preventative barriers led to fatal Oklahoma rig explosion

QUINTON, Okla. – The U.S. Chemical Safety Board has released its final report on the 2018 rig explosion that killed five workers.

"This is a very serious incident and five people lost their lives. That's a threshold that we cannot ignore," Dr. Kristen Kulinowski, Interim Executive Director for the U.S. Chemical Safety Board, said.

That’s why the deadly rig explosion that happened back in January of 2018 became the first onshore accident the CSB has investigated. Their final report was released on Wednesday.

"Our investigation found that the immediate cause of the blowout and rig fire was the failure of both barriers that should have been in place during the operations leading to the blowout,” Lauren Grim, the CSB lead investigator, said.

However, the tragic catastrophe, which killed five workers, was hours in the making before that.

The day before the explosion, the well became underbalanced with gas entering the surface, yet drilling continued and lasted well into the next day, while the underbalanced well took on barrels and barrels of gas.

"It's important to note that during this period, a safety critical operation termed a flow check was not performed,” Grim said.

The flow check determines if gas or other fluids have entered the well.

The CSB is now calling on both the state and the company operating the well to make serious changes.

"Drilling companies are governed by a patchwork of laws, set forth by individual states. During its investigation, the CSB determined that the laws in Oklahoma where the incident occurred are not focused on safety. Instead, they stress rules that appear to be intended to maximize production,” Kulinowski said.

The rig’s operator, Patterson UTI Drillings released this statement:

“Patterson-UTI Drilling appreciates the professionalism of the CSB’s investigators and shares the agency’s goal of safety improvement for the industry. From the time CSB first deployed to the site, Patterson-UTI Drilling fully cooperated with the agency. Throughout the CSB’s investigation, Patterson-UTI Drilling facilitated the interviews of employees, coordinated tests and field visits, and produced thousands of pages of information.

As part of Patterson-UTI Drilling’s continuous safety improvement process, immediately following the accident we began evaluating what policies, procedures and training could be improved, and we have proactively taken measures designed to prevent an accident like this from ever happening again. While Patterson-UTI Drilling does not agree with all of the findings in the report, Patterson-UTI is nevertheless evaluating what additional policies, procedures and training could be implemented to address the key issues raised in the report.

We continue to remember the five men who lost their lives in this accident, and our deepest sympathies remain with their families. While nothing can make up for the tragic loss of life, we have reached mutually agreeable settlements with each of their families. We remain committed to preventing an accident like this from ever happening again.”

The CSB is now calling on the state and company to make some changes when it comes to implementing safety procedures.

"A safety management system needs to be in place. A plan needs to be in place and these barriers that we talked about need to be in place for both the release and also protect the workers," Kulinowski said.

The CSB has passed along safety recommendations to the Corporation Commission.

Red Mountain Energy released the following statement in response to a report from the U.S. Chemical Safety and Hazard Investigation Board.

“Red Mountain is, and will continue to be, committed to transparency and providing safe, responsible operations in the oil and gas industry,” Red Mountain President Tony Say said. “While we respect the work and authority of the U.S. Chemical Safety and Hazard Investigation Board (“CSB”), the findings and opinions rendered in the June 12, 2019, report are inconsistent with the data we submitted, which demonstrate we were acting in accordance with standard industry practice. On the Pryor Trust well, mud weights were kept in a range which maintained well control at all times; this is the case on all Red Mountain wells. The large array of unfortunate human errors identified by the CSB were responsible for this catastrophic event. Our deepest sympathies continue to be with the families who were affected by this tragedy."

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