The US Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement (BSEE) approved Walter Oil & Gas Corp.’s permit application to drill a relief well at South Timbalier 220 in the US Gulf of Mexico, using the Rowan EXL-3 jack-up rig. The well is expected to be drilled on Thursday, August 1. Crews are currently preparing the rig for drilling. Once the relief well intercepts the target, drilling mud followed by cement will be pumped into the well to secure it.
BSEE said in a July 30 statement that all available options to safely secure the natural gas well remain under consideration. Work moving forward includes the installation of gas detectors and high-capacity water jet fire monitors on board the Hercules 265 rig; BSEE said this was carried out for the safety of the rig and the well intervention operations, which will be conducted from a near-by barge, Superior Derrick Services' Performance. The barge arrived on location July 27.
A slight sheen continues to be detected on the water's surface according to visual observations. The sheen is dissipating quickly. The Coast Guard continues to maintain a 500m safety zone around the site. Firefighting and other marine vessels remain onsite with personnel from Walter, Hercules, and other professional engineering contractors, and relevant federal agencies.
JULY 25: A visual inspection conducted by Hercules Offshore revealed debris near the well site. Hercules, Walter Oil & Gas and regulatory authorities are continuing to review the area for potential environmental impacts. Hercules has also contracted an outside environmental expert to monitor currents, wind direction and wave height for the potential trajectory of any conceivable environmental spill.
A water curtain was applied by a fire-fighting vessel to the rig. According to the BSEE, the water curtain’s purpose is not to extinguish the fire, but to provide heat protection to the rig. Coast Guard Cutter Pompano and Cutter Cypress are on location enforcing the safety zone and assessing the changing conditions on the rig.
BSEE expects Walter Oil & Gas to submit a permit application to drill a relief well this evening. The permit, which would include details on the proposed well and the casing and cementing programs, must be approved by BSEE engineers before drilling could commence.
The well has bridged over and the gas flow stopped. The fire has decreased to a small flame fueled by residual gas at the top of the well. Bridging is a well condition where small pieces of sediment and sand flow into the well path and restrict and ultimately stop the flow.
Both BSEE and Coast Guard have conducted overflights to visually confirm. Both entities will continue overseeing response efforts until the event has come to a complete and safe resolution which includes securing the well.
A fire aboard Hercules’ 265 jackup drilling rig was detected July 23, 2013 in the Gulf of Mexico, about 55 miles offshore Louisiana. Natural gas leaking from a well located in the OCS lease block South Timbalier 220, triggered the blaze. According to Hercules, the 44 people on board the ship were evacuated when the fire broke out, and no injuries were reported.
The rig’s operator, Walter Oil and Gas corp., was doing completion work on the sidetrack well in preparation for production, when the natural gas flowing from the well ignited and spread to the rig.
The Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement (BSEE) and the US Coast Guard have established a command center in response to the incident, and after an over flight of the region, inspectors reported a cloud of natural gas above the rig—along with a light, dissipating sheen on the water covering an area of one-half mile by 50ft.
Both BSEE and Coast Guard conducted overflight (July 24, 2013) to assess the situation. There is no observed sheen on the water surface. As the rig fire continues, the beams supporting the derrick and rig floor have folded and collapsed over the rig structure.
Two firefighting vessels were in the area and re-located to a safe distance from the fire. A third vessel equipped with fire-fighting capability and improved monitoring system is enroute and expected to arrive late morning. The 87-foot Coast Guard Cutter Pompano is standing by to assess the situation and enforce the security zone. The Coast Guard Cutter Cypress is enroute and will arrive at approximately noon.
Under BSEE’s direction, Walter Oil & Gas has begun preparations to move a jack-up rig on location to potentially drill a relief well. BSEE continues to review and approve all operational plans and procedures. BSEE's priority throughout this operation is the safety of the offshore workers and the protection of the environment.