Friday, December 10, 2010

The Montara Blowout: "A failure of sensible oilfield practice 101"

The Montara blowout happened in 2009 in Australia. It was 74 days before well control was re-established, but it was about an order of magnitude smaller than Macondo, so there has been much less scrutiny.

A couple of days ago, the Australian Government released their Report [PDF].

The Oil Drum has a nice summary.

Some interesting notes:
* The report placed the blame almost entirely on PTTEPAA (Thailand's Nationalized Oil Company). Numerous red flags were ignored. The government did not mince words: "the way that PTTEPAA operated the Montara Oilfield did not come within a ‘bulls roar’ of sensible oilfield practice". {Personally, I wonder how much the global shortage of experienced petroleum engineers to supervise projects has played a part in both this blowout and Macondo.}
* Because PTTEPAA is not exactly a household name and no personnel lost their lives, there's been much less attention paid than BP's Macondo Blowout. The Oil Drum says the Aussies should be paying more attention, because it was near the Great Barrier Reef and it could have been a whole lot worse.
* The proximate cause of both disasters was failure of untested cement barriers. Both cement jobs failed to achieve proper zonal isolation, both operators (PTTEPAA and BP) relied on a single barrier to protect them (removal of mud w/o a second cement plug), and failed in well intervention efforts after the well started kicking.
* The cement contractor in both Macondo and Montara: Halliburton. It's interesting to note, though, that the Australian Report completely exonerates Halliburton. {Note that there are also relatively few contractors that do downhole cement. There's Halliburton, BJ Services, Schlumberger, and that's about it. Halliburton provided all of the cement for both relief wells BP drilled, including using their infamous nitrogen-foamed cement [but only on the shallow casings; conventional cement was used to block off Macondo]}.
* The use of dispersants was discussed in the Montara report. They concluded that the use was warranted as the less of two evils.
* In both Macondo and Montara, there were good rules on the books, but nobody, government regulator (MMS) or operator (BP/PTTEPAA) looked at them. In both Macondo and Montara, government regulators would OK whatever the operators asked for in minutes. BP and PTTEPAA's casing engineers totally ignored extensive internal casing design guidelines and operated in a cavalier and ignorant mode of 'git 'er done' without actually knowing what they were doing.

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