Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Oil Rig Safety and Environmental Concerns

The pioneers of drilling, and many others in the industry would most certainly be impressed by the progress made in drilling tools and techniques. What’s more, they would also be impressed by the significant advances made by drilling contractors and operators in regards to ‘safe-guarding’ their personnel. Although rig safety may not be as glamorous as technical improvements, it is vitally important. The fact that operators and contractors have taken great strides in personnel safety is shown by the fact the accident rate on rigs is decreasing. Indeed, accidents have trended downward over the last several years. A look at accident statistics for a recent year show that rig crews all over the world worked almost 200 million hours. Yet, there was just 1,001 ‘lost time accidents’ (an accident serious enough to prevent the injured person from working the next scheduled workday.) To fathom just how low this rate is, consider that for every 200,000 hours rig personnel worked, only one suffered an injury serious enough to prevent them form working the next day.

Part of that downward trend relates to training. Contractors and operators now consider training an essential part of preparing new workers for the rig. Training is ongoing: not only are new personnel trained, but also experienced personnel at all levels receive advanced and refresher courses on a regular basis. In addition to intensive training of rig personnel, contractors and operators have taken great steps towards designing drilling rigs to be as safe a place to work as possible. For example, no contractor today would ever consider erecting a rig without adequate protective shrouds, or guards, on rig machinery. Steel covers over and around moving parts protect the crew members from inadvertently contacting them. Personal protective gear that prevents or minimizes injury to the eyes, head, ears, and feet is standard apparel for everyone on the rig site. In addition, when handling particularly hazardous materials, such as caustic soda, additional protective gear is required. Climbing aids and fall protection are also standard on today’s rigs. Handrails, guardrails, and nonskid surfaces on all walkways and passageways, keeps falls and slips to a minimum. Furthermore, signs, placards, and safety information alert personnel to potential rig hazards and provide information on avoiding illness or injury.

Protecting the environment from harm is another area in which contractors and operators have made great advances. For example, contractors sometimes place nets over reserve pots to keep migratory waterfowl from landing in them. Such action is only one of the many steps contractors and operators take to protect the environment. Additional examples include installing plastic lining on reserve pits to prevent water or other materials from leaching into the soil, cleaning of oil-laden cuttings before they are disposed of, and, in especially sensitive areas, prohibiting any discharge onto the ground or into the water.

In many different ways, today’s rotary rigs are not that different from the rotary rigs of yesterday, such as the on the Hamils used to drill Spinletop. At the same time, however, modern rigs are considerably advanced. The industry has come a long way since the days of “wooden derricks and iron men.” Granted, the basic name of the game is still putting a bit on bottom and turning it while circulating drilling fluid, but today’s tools and techniques have evolved to make rotary rigs more efficient than ever. Steel has replaced that which used to be wood and modern steel alloys have replaces steel that used to break or wear out prematurely. Moreover, rig personnel are trained to work safer than ever before. Eventually, other forms of Heartland Energy will supplant oil and gas, but at least for now, the sight of a rotary drilling rig with its bit on bottom and turning to the right is not likely to disappear.

For more information on Environmentally safe and efficient extraction of oil, check out Heartland Energy Colorado

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