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Events That Preceded the Patterson-UTI Rig Explosion

The cause of the Oklahoma Patterson-UTI rig explosion that fatally wounded five employees last Monday has been identified as an uncontrolled release of gas. The gas breach unfortunately ignited before workers could shut the well, resulting in the explosion of the rig.

In the events leading to the explosion, the well that sprung the gas leak appeared to be having issues. The workers that were assisting in the functions of the well should have known that the well issues would lead to a safety check—namely, opening the choke line valves (HCR) and monitoring the pressure at the closed chokes. However, none of the onsite workers performed this check—and, ultimately, the unmonitored pressure in the blind rams led to the well’s explosion.

The workers onsite should have known that the well was having trouble, but there were other indicators of the impending danger. In a private Facebook post between oil rig workers, one worker said that the blowout preventer (BOP) system had revealed that the Patterson-UTI Oklahoma well needed repairs.

If this is true, this means the company continued to pull oil from a well that was known to have issues. Rather than stop operations and repair the well, the company put profit over safety, an apparent normal practice for oil rig companies who are trying to meet deadlines.

It is pretty clear that preliminary investigations into the cause of the accident reveal a clear story of warning signs that went unheeded and unfixed. While this may come as a surprise to the general public, oil rig forums seem to preach the same message.

Here are some of the comments from oil rig workers concerning the explosion:

  • “It happens more than you know where proper procedure is overlooked because of time factor.”
  • “This is tragic yet so easily avoidable with minimal good drilling practices.”
  • “I have known of some driller pushers that try to shut down and do the right thing but end up getting pushed out of their jobs for it.”

These statements lead investigators to answer one main question: Was the negligence displayed by Patterson-UTI workers accidental or were they told by the company to continue drilling despite the risks?