Federal officials said they will open a full investigation of the rig explosion that killed five workers in eastern Oklahoma last month as early indications show the failure of a critical piece of equipment may have contributed to the deadly blast.
The Chemical Safety Board, an independent non-regulatory federal agency charged with investigating large industrial chemical accidents, said it sent two investigators to the rig explosion site near Quinton, Oklahoma on Jan. 24 to begin the probe.
The rig, owned by Houston-based company Patterson-UTI, exploded about 9 a.m. on Jan. 22 when an uncontrolled release of natural gas from a well during drilling operations occurred. The accident was the deadliest event in the oil and gas industry since BP’s Deepwater Horizon rig exploded in the Gulf of Mexico in 2010, killing 11 people.
Like the Deepwater Horizon disaster, the Patterson-UTI rig blast may have been caused, at least partially, by the failure of the blowout preventer – the equipment set atop a wellhead that is supposed to stop gas from blasting uncontrolled to the surface. According to the Houston Chronicle, Oklahoma regulators said their initial findings point to a failure of the blowout preventer at the Patterson-UTI drilling site.
The Oklahoma Corporation Commission (OCC)’s initial report says that rig workers attempted to engage the blowout preventer to shut the well off but that the two heavy steel blocks known as blind rams that join in the middle of the wellbore to seal the well failed to close, the Houston Chronicle reported.
The workers who were killed in the rig explosion were identified as Josh Ray, 35; Matthew Smith, 29; Cody Risk, 26; Parker Waldridge, 60; and Roger Cunningham, 55. Patterson-UTI said it employed three of the men.
The U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), which is among the agencies investigating the deadly rig explosion, will be looking at whether the agency violated workplace safety regulations.
The day after the rig explosion, the Oklahoma Supreme Court struck down as unconstitutional part of the state’s workers compensation law that barred workers and their families from suing oil and natural gas companies when workers are injured or killed on the job. That part of the law, granting complete blanket immunity to oil and gas well operators, was added in 2011.