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Nature Can Clog Oil Rig Fires, But Shouldn't Have To

The environment disrupted the fires and oil leak at the recent Hercules 265 rig burst. But even though nature fills in about a third of accidental leaks, that’s probably not something you want to be counting on.
Ben Richmond
Κείμενο Ben Richmond
Montara Oil Platform Fire, 2009, photo via Flickr / CC.

Usually when Mark Ruffalo is upset about collecting natural gas, he’s talking about fracking the stuff out of shale. But today, it’s a natural gas rig in the Gulf of Mexico that has him hulking out.

Last Tuesday, all 44 rig workers on the offshore drilling rig, Hercules 265, were evacuated when it was discovered that natural gas was leaking from the well. Before leaving, the workers tried to close the well using its blow-out preventer, and just like with 2010’s Deepwater Horizon disaster, the blow-out preventer didn’t work. That night at 11, as the workers were all safely on an adjacent rig, working on a relief well, the Hercules 265’s leaking gas caught fire.


The oil rig burned from Tuesday night until Thursday morning, when parts of the platform folded and collapsed. Somewhere in the fire and collapse, the leak was stopped, essentially through good fortune.

“They are lucky,” said Bud Danenberger, a consultant and former chief of offshore regulatory programs at the Minerals Management Service. Danenberger told Fuelfix that, “what really happened is that natural sediment flowed into the well bore and essentially blocked the flow.”

Without the sand and sentiment falling into and closing the hole, blocking the well would have been extremely difficult. As the fire burned Wednesday night, the Coast Guard told the Washington Post that the blow-out preventer had collapsed and said that the next option was bringing in another Hercules rig to drill a separate relief well, which would have taken 25 days.

For now, with the fire stopped and only a slight plume and sheen on the water, the remains of Hercules 265 are being fitted with natural gas detectors and high-capacity hoses, so crews can safely plug the well permanently. Scientists and researchers are sampling the water around the rig from about five miles out, as close as the Coast Guard will let them.

Read the rest over at Motherboard.