Nobody I know in the well control business could ever write a story worth a damn, myself included, but by God, we could all sure tell a story with the best of them. Generally speaking the more alcohol involved, the better the stories got. I use to love to give evening presentations about the history of well control to large crowds, when folks had a few drinks and wine with dinner. My stories always got better, and a lot funnier. My wife calls it "stretching' the truth and I call it induced embellishment, or, "making a good story... better." Anyway, I don't know who told me this story about Boots Hansen in Venezuela; David Thompson, maybe, or James Tuppen:
Typical barge rig, Lake Maracaibo, circ.1979
The SLB 5-4X well was located in about 90 feet of water and was operated by Corpoven SA. The DP became differentially stuck, mud weight was reduced pumping pills to become "unstuck," eventually a blowout occurred and ultimately the well ignited. The derrick collapsed and sunk the rig barge to the lake floor taking the drill pipe and riser with it. Flow was estimated at 40MMCFGPD and 7,000 BO, all of it burning on the surface of the lake.
Responsibility of the well shifted from Corpoven SA to Lagoven SA on June 1, 1986 and Lagoven invited Boots Hansen, with Boots and Coots, Inc. in Houston to the scene. The intervention required removing rig debris, cutting the riser, DP and casing strings to attempt a sub-sea (lake) capping of the blowout flow. This required several months of preparation and shipping of the capping stack and guide assembly from Houston, while rig removal was initiated and dredging occurred around the well bore.
In the mean time John Wright was hired to locate a jack up rig in the lake and begin relief well procedures to intersecting the well bore at about 17,600 TMD, no easy feat back then given directional drilling BHA's and that anticipated bottom hole temperature in this zone was 400 degrees F.
Boots eventually capped the well, underwater, and the well was put first on diverters, then to flowlines to capture the liquids. A platform was built above the capping stack and a snubbing unit was rigged up. The well was eventually killed with lake water and mud. The relief well was finished as a replacement well and eventually became a producer.
This is some old video of the actual capping procedure in 1986 from Boots and Coots archives. There are some articles about this job on the internet that can be researched, including SPE Document 166373-MS and I suggest anyone interested do so; its a remarkable story of engineering ingenuity. Oceaneering International played a vital role in diving operations and Neal Adams Engineering, out of Houston, was also extensively involved.
The SLB 5-4X well had four other Venezuelan-based working interest owners in the well. When Boots first arrived at the blowout site there were an array of work boats, work barges, fire barges and tug boats surrounding the well, each having at least four petroleum engineers on them representing their respecting companies with interest in the mess and all facing enormous costs. When Boots stepped on the Lagoven's command barge he was inundated with "advice" from at least 15 different engineers, for several hours, all yakin' at once, all with their own idea on how to cap and kill the well.
For everyone who knew, or ever worked with Boots on a blowout, it will come as no surprise that within hours of first being on location Boots decided he'd had enough of that shit. With the help of Lagoven corporate managers, Boots sent radio communications to all attending workboats there would be an engineers meeting at 07:00 hours the following morning on the workboat named Maria V; attendance was mandatory.
At 07:00 hrs. the next morning Boots' workboat tied up alongside the Maria V and Mr. Hansen boarded the boat to a standing room only crowd of petroleum engineers. A role call was taken to ensure everyone was in attendance. Boots stood before them all and thanked them for coming. He then re-boarded his workboat and waved adios...whereby 15 engineers all went for a short boat ride back to the beach, never to be seen again.
And that was that.
Catatumbo Lightening; Lake Maracaibo, Venezuela