Causes of Onshore & Offshore Oil Rig Explosions

Oil rig workers face many dangers every day they go to work. On an oil rig, every task and piece of equipment must be handled with proper training and safety procedures to avoid injury. The most catastrophic danger is an explosion occurring on the rig. While oil rig explosions are relatively rare, the damage they can cause is overwhelming. The most notorious oil rig explosion occurred in 2010 when the Deepwater Horizon rig exploded off the coast of Louisiana. The explosion killed 11 workers and injured dozens more.

The Deepwater Horizon rig explosion was caused by a faulty blowout preventer. A blowout preventer is a large valve used to seal off an oil and gas well. In the case of the Deepwater Horizon, the blowout preventer failed to fully engage the well, allowing a methane bubble to rise up the drill column. While a failure with a blowout preventer can cause an explosion, it is not the only reason an oil rig could explode.

Common Causes of Oil Rig Explosions

  • Fires
  • Blowouts
  • Equipment Failures
  • Employee / Employer Negligence

Due to the large amounts of oil that is stored on oil rigs, fire is always the number one threat to cause an explosion. With the amount of flammable materials on and near the rig, workers must be extremely cautious and follow proper safety protocols when performing "hot work" such as welding, cutting, grinding, or any other job that creates heat, flames, or sparks.

A rig can also explode because of a blowout. A blowout is the uncontrolled release of oil or gas from the well after pressure control systems have failed. Blowouts are much less common now that modern technology has designed equipment such as blowout preventers; however, as we saw in the Deepwater Horizon incident, they are not always foolproof.

In addition to fires and blowouts, explosions can occur by any number of equipment failures or acts of negligence on part of a worker or the company.

Other Notable Oil Rig Explosions

November 2012 – An oil rig operated by Black Elk Energy exploded off the coast of Grand Isle, Louisiana. The investigation into the explosion found that it was caused by workers welding on piping that was connected to a tank containing crude oil and flammable oil vapors. The vapors were ignited by sparks from the welding and spread to the oil tank within seconds. The explosion killed three workers.

July 1988 – In the worst offshore oil rig explosion in history, 167 workers were killed on the Piper Alpha rig in the North Sea off the coast of Scotland. A gas leak led to a massive explosion that sent a fireball erupting 350 feet into the sky. Toxic fumes killed many of the workers while others died after jumping 100 feet into the North Sea.

November 1983 – Four offshore divers were in a decompression chamber system attached to a diving bell on the Byford Dolphin oil rig when the chamber explosively decompressed in a fraction of a second and killed all four divers instantly.

Oil Rig Explosion Attorneys

If you or a loved one was injured or killed in an oil rig explosion, it is important to have an experienced and knowledgeable attorney on your side. Oil rig explosions are complicated matters; determining the root cause and who is responsible requires an extensive knowledge of the industry, major resources to conduct a thorough investigation, and the tenacity to take on the deep-pocketed oil companies. The oil rig explosion attorneys at Arnold & Itkin not only have what it takes to go toe-to-toe with the major oil companies, but we have done it before. Following the Deepwater Horizon tragedy, our firm represented nearly a third of the injured crewmembers. Contact our law firm today to learn how we can help you get compensated for your injuries or loss of a family member.


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