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Oil rig fire almost out; air clean

By Bianca Montes
Aug. 30, 2013 at 3:30 a.m.
Updated Aug. 31, 2013 at 3:31 a.m.


Noxious compounds

Hydrogen sulfide is an extremely hazardous, toxic compound.

It is a colorless, flammable gas that can be identified in relatively low concentrations by a characteristic rotten egg odor.

The gas occurs naturally in coal pits, sulfur springs, gas wells and as a product of decaying sulfur-containing organic matter, particularly under low oxygen conditions. It is therefore commonly encountered in places such as sewers, sewage treatment plants,

manure stockpiles, mines, hot springs and the holds of fishing ships.

Industrial sources of hydrogen sulfide include petroleum and natural gas extraction and refining, pulp and paper manufacturing, rayon textile production, leather tanning, chemical manufacturing and waste disposal.

Source: safetydirectory.com

Harmful levels of noxious compounds were not detected in the air around the still-burning oil rig near Yoakum.

The Texas Commission on Environmental Quality gave the area a clean bill of health after monitoring for volatile organic compounds and the colorless and toxic hydrogen sulfide gas, said media relations officer Terry Clawson.

The Nabors Industries oil rig, operated by Enron Oil and Gas, exploded just before 7 p.m. Wednesday after oil rig workers were drilling horizontally into the Eagle Ford Shale. Large plumes of fire and smoke were seen from miles away.

Those who live within a quarter-mile of the oil rig located on County Road 338 remain evacuated, however.

EOG Resources Inc. is waiting for the well to be sealed before allowing them to return, said a company spokeswoman.

"EOG is covering living expenses for its nearby neighbors who were asked to evacuate as a safety precaution during this incident," said K. Leonard, EOG public relations manager. "The company's priorities remain constant - protect the safety of those responding to the incident, neighbors in the area and the environment."

Leonard declined to comment on how many people were evacuated, but according to Yoakum Fire Department Chief Mark Herchek, two homes remain evacuated.

Walter Scott, 67, who lives less than a mile from the rig, said he chose not to evacuate after it exploded, despite receiving a direct call from the Shiner Volunteer Fire Department.

Scott has lived in his countryside home since 1978, when the phone company brought him to the area.

"We heard the blast; it kind of rumbled things at the house," he said. "I looked up, and it was enormous - 500 feet of fire in the air."

Scott said he could feel the heat of the explosion all the way across the field. "It was intense," he said.

But because the wind was blowing the opposite direction, he wasn't worried about his family's safety.

"If the wind shifted, we were ready to go," he said.

There are no reports of injuries as a result of the incident. Leonard said all rig personnel have been accounted for.

Going into the weekend, EOG reports the fire has substantially subsided and is close to being extinguished.

Wild Well Control, a water suppression crew from Houston, has worked on the fire since late Wednesday evening.

The Railroad Commission of Texas is monitoring the operator's efforts daily to bring the well under control, a department spokeswoman said. Once the well is brought under control, a commission field inspector will inspect this lease to determine if there are any Railroad Commission rule violations.

"The commission inspector will look for any possible commission rule violations, such as any potential pollution threats involving spills associated with the well," said media relations officer Ramona Nye. "At this time, commission staff have not observed any pollution threats."

The commission cannot inspect the well until the fire is completely contained and all debris is removed from the site, Nye said.

The Railroad Commission of Texas recently announced several amendments to well construction rules that specify casing, cementing and other standards aimed at ensuring that hydraulic fracturing operations do not impact groundwater or injection wells.

These amendments to Statewide Rule 13 go into effect Jan. 1, 2014, and do not apply to this well, Nye said.

The U.S. Department of Labor's Occupational Safety and Health Administration also will investigate Wednesday's explosion, said media relations officer Diana Petterson, adding that an inspection history of the Nabors rig F38 was not available.

OSHA has cited Nabors Drilling USA, the owners of the drill site, with numerous violations for exposing workers to safety and health hazards at two oil rig drilling sites in Texas, according to a May 2012 OSHA news release.

Violations include failure to follow manufacturer's safety requirements and failure to ensure the proper use of electrical equipment.

Leonard said crews are continuing cleanup efforts at the site, and EOG will provide a final update once the well is sealed.

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