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Shell Bay Marchand 1970 Well Blowout in the Gulf of Mexico

The entire platform burned. It was at the time the biggest production disaster in the history of the Gulf of Mexico. Shell let it burn rather than pollute the nearby delta. It took 9 months to drill all the relief wells to kill 23 boreholes.

By John Donovan

As a result of the current oil spill disaster in the Gulf of Mexico, reference has been made in some news articles to a major past tragedy in the Gulf. It also involved the deaths of offshore workers.

A massive offshore blaze on Platform “B”in the Bay Marchand field in the shallow offshore of the Louisiana coast ignited on Dec. 1, 1970.  The platform was located about 65 miles south of New Orleans, in an area of considerable oil and gas activity, both offshore and in the bays.

The platform was immediately evacuated. Sixty men were aboard, including four Shell employees. Four men died and 36 were hospitalized.

The entire platform burned. It was at the time the biggest production disaster in the history of the Gulf of Mexico. Shell let it burn rather than pollute the nearby delta. It took 9 months to drill all the relief wells to kill 23 boreholes. Shell removed the burned platform, built a new one, and redrilled the field. (This paragraph adapted from “The Great Gulf Blowout: Understanding the Blame Game“, by Ed Warner)

Alternative account: The first well with the largest fire, B-21, was killed on Dec. 30, 1970; this reduced the intensity of the fire by about 40 percent. On April 7, 1971, the tenth and final well killed with a relief well was extinguished The fire from the remaining out-of-control well, B-4, was put out with a water spray and the well was capped. Because of difficulties encountered in achieving communication with it through the relief well, B-4 was brought under control from the surface. Well B-4 was officially dead at 10:14 a.m., April 16, 1971, ending an ordeal that had lasted 136 days and 29 minutes.

What caused the Bay Marchand fire? Several investigations have disclosed the following facts. The plastic coating on the tubing in Well B-21 sloughed off and plugged the well. In the course of wireline operations to clean out the well a serious human error was made: during a period when the well was unattended, the well control valves were left incompletely closed. The well blew out and the fire ignited. A subsurface safety valve waiver, granted for completion purposes, was in effect at the time.

Most of information in this article comes from the Journal of Petroleum Technology

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