I’m involved with a number of blogs and chat rooms on the Internet. Most of them are drilling related, everything from geotechnical to water wells, directional drilling and oilfield. Funny thing about that, every driller thinks their particular type of drilling is the best, hardest, coolest, etc., and looks down at all the other types of drilling. I have always figured that the goal of a driller is to make a usable hole for the customer. It makes no difference what is at the other end; we have to reach it.

One thing that every type of drilling has in common is danger. We operate powerful mechanical equipment in any geological condition, and any weather. We drill in places no one has ever seen before, and Mother Nature has a way of surprising us. Safety is, or should be, our first priority. I’ve seen a lot of guys that think they can just ram it through, safety be damned, and get paid sooner. This might work for a little while until unsafe practices catch up with them, Murphy raises his ugly head, and they pay in time, money and blood. Whatever time they saved by ignoring basic safety and best practices is lost. Safety starts at the top, from management, to supervisors, to everyone on the rig. The new guy can’t be expected to know, or care, about safety unless we teach him.

Since we’re talking safety here, I’ll tell ya’ll about the worst one I was involved in. I was pushing a workover rig that was working a daylight, fiveday- a-week job, and was home for the weekend. On Sunday, another pusher called and asked if I’d go watch his rig for a few hours while he went to see his girlfriend. It was my old rig, and it was only a few miles away, so I went. When I got there, they were fishing slip dies with a wireline magnet, so it was a pretty slow day. The well was a 13,500- foot high-pressure gas well completion over a big stack, with an 18-foot floor. We had all the pipe stood back, as well as two different strings of collars and a string of washpipe. The board was full.

About 13:00 hours we went on the floor to clean the magnet for another run, when two rows of pipe blew out of the fingers and fell across the derrick. I looked up and realized that the night derrick hand hadn’t tied anything off and there was no safety chain. I told the derrick hand to get up there. He started up, as one by one more stands were falling across. Nobody else would climb on that crew, so I started up to help him before things got bad.

The derrick hand had just crossed over to the board, and I was on the ladder looking at him when the rear, offside anchor came out of the ground. He wasn’t belted in yet, so he went over the back of the board. I rode it. It started slow, but not for long. It quickly turned into an E ticket ride. When it got close, I jumped. I landed on the top of the mud house and went over the edge head first into a centrifuge.

Casualties: The driller jumped off the floor into a junk box and broke both legs. The derrick man sunk into soft ground behind the rig and broke one leg. One floorhand went down the back stairs and ended up in the only place between the rig and the mud system that was open, and was not hurt. I split the top of my skull, knocked one eye out, and broke six ribs and both legs. The youngest floorhand froze on the floor, and when it went over fell into the shaker pit. The derrick hit the shaker, flipped it over and cut him in half. It didn’t kill him right away. He lived until they picked up the shaker with a crane, hours later. The other pusher was in his trailer getting ready to leave when the crown came through. It missed him by 4 feet. He came outside, looked at the carnage and had a nervous breakdown, unable to help anybody. I was life-flighted to Houston and was off three months.

Lessons Learned:

  1. Don’t overload the rig. They were running so heavy on that job that somebody came up with the idea to move both front anchors together, right in front of the rig, to stiffen the derrick. This created a three-point anchor system, instead of the factory designed four-point system.
  2. Use tested anchors and keep them in the proper place. The offside rear anchor was outside the location in a very soft rice field.
  3. Better training, and better follow-up and supervision. The derrick hand had not secured the pipe in the fingers when he came out of the hole, and nobody checked.

A lot of things went wrong that day, and it cost a man’s life, and hurt a lot of other people and destroyed a rig. I was the only one on location that day that went back to work in the patch.

This wouldn’t happen today because we learned our lessons — but at great cost.

When I’m on a location now, whether it is my job or not, if I see a dangerous or unsafe practice, I shut it down. I have stepped on a few toes doing it, and even been run off a job or two, but everybody went home safe.