An oil drilling expert witness advises on a case involving an American worker who was severely burned at an oil well in the Middle East, where he had been working on behalf of an American company. The employee was working as a derrickman for the American drilling company on a well listed as owned by the oil and gas company. He was directed to re-light the bucket of diesel on a blooie line, which had gone out. The well was being drilled with air. Gas from the blooie line, which was 43 feet away, suddenly and without warning ignited, engulfing plaintiff in a fireball and causing severe injuries.
Question(s) For Expert Witness
- 1. What safety regulations apply to well drilling?
- 2. What industry standards apply?
- 3. Did the defendants breach those standards?
Expert Witness Response
The proposed air drilling procedure on the project stated that the blooie line would not be less than 100 feet downwind from the wellbore and that the gas ignition system would be a continuous burning pilot light affixed to the end of the blooie. State occupational health and safety rules and the American Petroleum Institute require the air or gas discharge line (blooie line) to be laid in as nearly a straight line as possible from the well bore, and it must be at least 150 feet in length. Additionally, it requires a pilot flame to be maintained at all times when air, gas or mist drilling is in progress.
This incident resulted from the shortened blooie line pilot (igniter) light being extinguished by air drilling operations and as a result of gas accumulating in the area where a bucket of diesel fuel required re-igniting. The pilot (bucket of diesel) had a tendency to require re-igniting, making it a dangerous operation, where air and natural gas (or liquids) could and likely would collect in flammable mixtures (approximately 4 to 15% gas in air).
The gas company had a contractual obligation to direct, supervise and control the operations on the well. It also had an obligation to provide a flare system and effective method of ignition. It failed to supply a flare discharge 100 feet from the well bore and an automatic igniter or continuous pilot light on the blooie line. The gas company failed to follow industry standards and state safety regulations.
The drilling company failed to install the required length of blooie line and did not follow the approved proposed drilling program for the well.
The oil drilling expert witness is a professional petroleum and chemical engineer and is a certified safety professional who has evaluated numerous petroleum operation incidents.