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January 05, 2024
CSB says OSHA should regulate oil well drilling, servicing

In a final investigation report into a fatal well blowout, the U.S. Chemical Safety and Hazard Investigation Board (CSB) called on the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) to include onshore well drilling and well servicing operations in the agency’s process safety management (PSM) standard or develop a separate federal standard to address such operations.

During a January 29, 2020, well blowout at the Daniel H. Wendland 1-H well in Burleson County, Texas, three workers suffered fatal burn injuries from a flash fire that erupted when hydrocarbons from the well ignited; a fourth worker was seriously burned but survived. Board investigators found that the lack of effective well control practices, including well barriers, contributed to the incident, as did the absence of regulations governing onshore oil and gas operations.

There are minimal regulations covering onshore oil and gas drilling and servicing operations, according to the CSB, despite previous attempts to promulgate special rules for the industry.

Other key safety issues identified by the board included:

  • Well planning. At the time of the incident, industry guidance on well planning procedures included gathering well information, analyzing the information to predict potential hazards, and formulating contingency plans to address well hazards. However, Chesapeake Operating, L.L.C., the well’s owner, didn’t incorporate industry guidance into its well control policies. Chesapeake also didn’t adequately review the history of the well, which would have indicated previous well control issues.
  • Well control for completed wells in under-pressured reservoirs. The CSB learned that industry guidance doesn’t provide reliable methods for well control for completed wells in under-pressured reservoirs. Existing regulations don’t require the implementation and maintenance of well control for onshore oil and gas operations.
  • Ignition source management. During the incident, a mixture of flammable hydrocarbons was released from the well and found an ignition source. Multiple potential ignition sources were identified in the vicinity of the open wellbore. Chesapeake’s policies didn’t incorporate industry guidance on hazard assessments when locating ignition sources and atmospheric monitors near potentially flammable atmospheres.

The CSB recommended that the American Petroleum Institute (API), an industry group, publish guidance specifically for well control methods for completed wells in under-pressured reservoirs.

With the release of its report on the Wendland well blowout, the CSB has eliminated a long-standing backlog of investigations, issuing 17 final reports since July 2022.

CSB releases final report on fatal explosion and fire

The CSB also released a final reportinto an April 2, 2019, fatal explosion and fire at the Crosby, Texas, KMCO production facility, which produces sulfurized isobutylene as a lubrication additive, the board announced December 21.

Isobutylene leaked from a fracture in a segment of piping and formed a flammable vapor cloud, which ignited. The isobutylene release occurred when a piece of equipment called a y-strainer ruptured due to brittle overload fracture.

One KMCO employee was fatally injured, 2 were seriously injured, and at least 28 other workers were also injured. Portions of the KMCO facility were substantially damaged from the explosion and subsequent fires, according to the CSB.

The board’s report identified three key safety issues that contributed to the severity of the incident:  

  • Emergency response­. KMCO’s procedures and training didn’t properly limit the role of its operators during the emergency response. The plant’s culture relied on the quick action of unit operators to stop a release before the site’s emergency response team assembled. While urgent communications and quick actions did help move many operators away from the danger, workers performing quick actions at the facility were at risk. KMCO could have reduced the severity of the event by establishing clear policies and training for its workforce so they knew how not to put themselves in danger at all to stop a chemical release. 
  • Remote isolation. When the y-strainer ruptured, KMCO’s workers lacked the safety equipment they needed to stop the isobutylene release from a safe location.
  • Hazard evaluation. KMCO’s hazard evaluations consistently overlooked or misunderstood that its y-strainer was made from cast iron, a brittle material that existing industry standards and good practice guidance documents either prohibit or warn against using in hazardous applications, such as KMCO’s isobutylene system. 

Following the incident, KMCO filed for bankruptcy, and the company is no longer in business. Altivia Oxide Chemicals, LLC, purchased the Crosby facility in 2020 and informed the CSB that the process involved in the incident would be dismantled. 

Given that the employer involved went out of business, the CSB issued no recommendations.

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