About Air and Water

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

I-10 Well Explosion closes traffic into Baton Rouge

Note: We are posting articles on ABOUT AIR AND WATER about this Louisiana well explosion because it illustrates what can occur in Texas. During TxDOT Trans Texas Corridor public meetings last summer Dale Henry testified that running pipelines too near major transportation corridors is a bad idea. One of the leading oil/gas field safety experts in the world, Dale Henry recognized the dangers and warned Texas Legislators and bureaucrats that roadways, rail lines and pipelines and gas/oil wells should be separated as much as possible. Transportation is snarled for hundreds of miles now in Louisiana. The photos and reports are dramatic and costly illustrations of the validity of Mr. Henry's insight.

I-10 closed until December;
DNR to review company's rig permit after well blowout

By Mike Hasten - Lafayette Daily Advertiser - Nov. 20, 2007
BATON ROUGE - Interstate 10 between Lafayette and Baton Rouge will remain closed until Dec. 4 while crews battle a natural gas well fire that erupted Thursday less than a football field away from the roadway.
Dan Eby of Crudd Well Control, which has been hired to extinguish the fire at the Bridas Energy USA Inc. well site, said Dec. 4 is "not an ultra-optimistic estimate and it is not an ultra-pessimistic estimate" of when the work will be finished and the highway can reopen. "It is a realistic estimate" and he would be surprised if it took longer

But Eby cautioned, "you never know what you're going to get into" when fighting a well fire.

State Police Commander Colonel Stanley Griffin and Department of Transporta-tion and Development Secretary Johnny Bradberry said eastbound I-10 traffic will continue to be routed up I-49 at Lafayette on to U.S. 190 into Baton Rouge and I-10 westbound will be routed through Baton Rouge to LA 415 west of Port Allen, where it will link to U.S. 190 toward Opelousas.
He said he has contacted major trucking lines and advised them to reroute traffic to Interstate 20 across Louisiana until the problem is cleared. He also advised motorist to try to find alternate routes, like U.S. 90 if they are headed to New Orleans from Lafayette.

The additional traffic at times slows U.S. 190 between Opelousas and Baton Rouge to a crawl, Bradberry said, so "If you can think of another way without traveling over 190, do it."

The well, located about two miles west of the Ramah/Maringoin exit on the Atchafalaya Basin floodway side, blew out Thursday while the company was attempting to drill a second shaft after the original one ran into trouble.

Louisiana Department of Natural Resources spokesman Chris Frink said Monday that the agency is investigating what went wrong on the well and at the same time is reviewing the soundness of its policy that allowed a well to be drilled so close to a major highway.

"We are still gathering all the facts," Frink said in an interview. "Our first priority is public safety, to get that thing capped. When the investigation is complete and we have all the facts, we will look again at our policies with an eye n maintaining public safety."

A primary factor in that review, he said, is the current policy that allows a well to be drilled near a roadway with the only stipulation that it be far enough away that if the drilling derrick falls, it will not block the road.

The Bridas well, he said, "was within our policies." It's 90 yards from the elevated westbound lanes of I-10.

Bradberry said Gov. Kathleen Blanco has ordered an immediate review and possible change of that policy.

Bridas Energy USA Inc., based in Longview, Texas, "has got a good safety record with us," Frink said.

Since 1998, the company has received permits to drill 49 wells in six fields in Caddo and DeSoto parishes. This is its first one in south Louisiana.

State Sen. Robert Adley of Benton, who once was in the gas well drilling business, said "Caddo and DeSoto are a whole lot different than what they're drilling down there" because the pressure is much greater in south Louisiana. "There must be an incredible amount of pressure."

Adley questions why the well blew out and is still going strong.

"With the technology we have today, they should have been able to handle it," he said. "I'm just astounded they haven't been able to get control of it."

Don Briggs, executive director of the Louisiana Oil and Gas Association, said all drilling rigs have blowout preventers and "obviously, something didn't work."

Briggs said it's standard operation when a well is drilled to pump heavy drilling mud into the hole to hold back the pressure. The higher the pressure, the more mud is needed. If the pressure builds up faster than mud can be pumped in, "that's why you have blowout preventers. When you have a blowout, something had to have gone wrong."

Briggs said, using an expression in the business, "they got their mud cut and it came to see 'em. I'm sure those guys hate seeing their reservoir drained."

Blowouts are not supposed to be commonplace, he said, but they're common enough to keep a number of blowout specialists and well firefighters in business.

Rodney Mallett, communications director for the state Department of Environmental Quality, said inspectors with air and water monitors have been on-site since Thursday and have detected "not a thing" that would harm the environment. "It's pretty much a clean-burning gas" and so far, no distillates have been detected that would harm the environment.

DEQ has constructed retaining walls around the well site to collect the massive amount of water expected to be sprayed on the fire to knock it out, Mallett said. It's possible the water could contain material that would affect the Atchafalaya Basin, so it will be collected and removed from the site.

Briggs said he received a report that crews at the well have dragged off bags of chemicals that he termed "caustic" and removed melted metal structures from the well area in anticipation of the high-powered water spray.

Bradberry said DOTD inspectors have found no damage to I-10 and will be safe to use as soon as the fire is extinguished and no gas is escaping. Until then, he said, it is not safe for traffic.

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