Major Offshore Accidents of the 20th & 21st Century
Drilling for oil is an inherently dangerous endeavor. Oil companies and rig workers must take extreme precaution during all parts of the drilling process to avoid disaster. Even one mistake or missed safety procedure can lead to a catastrophic blowout. Unfortunately, oil companies often cut corners to save time and money. In doing so, they put the lives of the workers at risk. Fires and explosions that occur on oil rigs are some of the most devastating types of offshore accidents that can ever happen. The injuries and property damage that can be sustained from an incident of this nature are extreme and can result in long-term consequences. Unfortunately, over the years, these have not been unheard of occurrences.
Below, you will find some of the most significant oil rig fires and explosions in the 20th and 21st century.
In January 1969, Union Oil began drilling a fifth oil well on their offshore Platform A, just over five miles from the coast of Santa Barbara, CA. On the morning of the 28th, drilling stopped for well evaluation. At 10:45 a.m., the well blew out, leaking oil and gas. A second blow out in a different well followed on February 24th. Clean up efforts were not yet honed and some areas of the nearby California coastline were affected for years. The disaster ultimately led to stricter environmental restrictions on offshore activity.
Mexico's government-owned oil company, Pemex, used a semi-submersible drilling rig to create Ixtoc I, an exploratory oil well 62 miles off the coast of Campeche, Mexico. On June 3, the well experienced a blowout, initially leaking 30,000 barrels of oil into the gulf each day. Though various efforts were undertaken to lessen the leakage, the spill remained uncontained until March 1980.
Phillips Petroleum was employing the Alexander L. Kielland semi-submersible drilling rig as living quarters for off-duty workers in the Norwegian North Sea. One morning, a severe storm with high winds snapped all six anchor cables, causing the platform to overturn and capsize. The accident killed 123 of the 212 men on board.
Mobil Oil's Ocean Ranger semi-submersible drilling unit was drilling an exploration well 166 miles off the coast of Newfoundland. A sudden cyclone left the crew little time to prepare the vessel adequately. The ship begins to list in the early morning hours of the 15th, and the crew decided to abandon ship. Rescue efforts were disastrous. The unit sank, which killed all 84 crewmembers.
August 1984 & April 1988
Petrobras' Enchova drilling platform, operating in the Campos Basin near Rio de Janeiro, Brazil experienced its first disaster in 1984 when a blowout on the morning of August 16 led to an explosion and fire. 42 workers died in the evacuation, including 36 who fell from a lifeboat when its mechanism failed. Less than four years later, in April 1988, the well suffered a gas blowout while being converted from oil to gas. Drill pipe was forced out of the well and struck a platform leg, causing sparks to ignite the gas. The resulting fire burned for 31 days, but the crew members were able to abandon the platform without casualty.
Occidental Petroleum's Piper Alpha oil production platform exploded in the North Sea after a series of malfunctioning parts and a small gas leak ignited under pressure. Eventually, the pipeline connecting Piper to the Claymore Platform burst and the Piper slipped into the sea. Of the 224 crewmembers, 165 were killed and 2 rescue vessel crewmen also perished. Only 59 individuals survived. At the time of the accident, the Piper was contributing approximately 10% of the North Sea's oil and gas production.
Typhoon Gay overtook the Seacrest, a drilling ship belonging to UNOCAL (which merged with Chevron in 2005.) The Seacrest capsized and floated for several days before sinking, killing 91 of the 97 crewmembers.
Petrobras' P-36 oil platform, the largest semi-submersible in the world at the time, experienced two back-to-back explosions which killed 11 of the 175 workers. After the explosions, the platform began to list, finally sinking five days later.
A multi-purpose support vessel crashed into Indian government-owned Mumbai High North platform. An explosion and massive fire resulted. The platform was evacuated and destroyed within two hours. 22 of the 384 workers onboard were killed.
Oil began to leak from Seadrill's West Atlas rig in the Timor Sea off the coast of Australia. All workers were evacuated, but the resulting oil slick spreads over 2300 square miles of water, killing marine life in affected areas. The leak was not plugged until 11/1.
BP's Deepwater Horizon drilling rig exploded off the coast of Louisiana and burned for 36 hours before sinking. 11 crewmembers died, and more were seriously injured. Environmental damage and damages to the surrounding Gulf Shore communities were extensive. It is considered one of the worst ecological disasters of all time. We represented more than a third of the crew.
Mariner Energy's Vermillion Oil Rig 380 exploded off the coast of Louisiana, just 200 miles east of the site where the Deepwater Horizon tragedy occurred. A supply ship rescued all 13 crewmembers. None were seriously injured.
Chevron Nigeria Limited oil rig experienced an explosion six miles off the coast of the African nation. The fire was still burning three days later. As of January 20, 2012, two workers were still missing and presumed dead. Fish were dying in large numbers, and coastal residents were scared to eat living marine animals as they may have been contaminated.
An oil rig owned by Petrobras exploded off of the Brazilian coast. The incident killed 5 workers and injured more than 25 others.
A Gulf of Mexico oil rig explosion killed 4 workers and injured 45 others. Pemex operated the rig. Approximately 300 workers were evacuated from the platform after the fire broke out overnight.
A fire broke out in the Gunashli oilfield after a storm damaged a high-pressure subsea gas pipeline. The fire spread to multiple wells; eventually, production was suspended, pipelines closed, and electricity shut off. More than 60 workers were onboard at the time of the incident. The Ministry of Emergency Situations of Azerbaijan reported 10 killed, 20 missing, and 9 hospitalized.
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Offshore injuries like the ones that occur in rig explosions can result in devastating consequences for injured workers, their families, and residents impacted by the environmental damage. Fortunately, special laws protect individuals injured while working offshore. An offshore injury attorney from Arnold & Itkin can help you or your loved one understand the laws that protect you and can help you secure compensation for your injuries, lost wages and more. Call today to learn more! Contact a maritime injury lawyer from Arnold & Itkin today for your free consultation.