Phillips Petroleum, Ekofisk 2/4 Bravo #B-14; rig floor, 1975. Photo by Helge Aarrestad
Phillips Petroleum Ekofisk 2/4 Bravo #B-14; wrestling drill collars, 1975. Photo by Helge Aarrestad
The giant, Ekofisk oil field was discovered in the Norwegian sector of the North Sea in 1969, about 180 miles southwest of Norway, in 285 feet of water. It was the first commercial oil discovery in the North Sea. The field was initially delineated and developed from three well platforms, Alpha, Bravo and Charlie; in 1996-1998 addition well head platforms were installed. The field's wells are completed in over-pressured Cretaceous aged carbonates at vertical depths of 9,500 to 11,000 feet Field production peaked in 1976 at 350K BOPD from 30 producing wells and 8 injections wells used for water flooding. Ekofisk fluid production led to significant subsidence in the middle of the field in 1986 and well platforms and production facilities had to be jacked back up to above sea levels and a coffer dam built around processing facilities.
Ekofisk had 6.4G BO of OOIP and Conoco-Phillips expects to produce the field until 2045. Some parts of the field are now being injected with nitrogen. It remains today one of the most important fields in the North Sea.
In April,1977, a remedial workover on Bravo platform's producing well No. B-14 was undertaken. The flowing well was killed with zinc bromide and the production tree was nippled down and set aside. Before a BOP could be installed on the well head configuration and the production tubing pulled, the BOP stack was turned upside down on the rig floor for repairs to the bottom flange and ring groves. Work was being done on the BOP when the well kicked, the down hole safety valve failed and shit started blowing everywhere on the rig floor. In a panic the rig crew picked up the BOP stack and was able to get it partially bolted down on the 13 5/8ths WH but ensuing efforts to close the blind rams failed and surface control was completely lost. The entire platform was abandoned. Estimated flow rates were over 20,000-25,000 BOPD of 38 API oil and a lot of that was going into the North Sea
The Red Adair Company was called in Houston and plans for relief well were undertaken immediately. The necessary rig move to facilitate the relief well was never realized because of heavy seas. Red was on another job at the time the call from Phillips came in so he sent Boots Hansen and Richard Hatteberg to Stavanger to tend to the mess. They arrived on location on April 24 1977. The fire risk was high on the Bravo platform so the rig floor stayed deluged with sea water from the Seaway Falcon, seen in the photos above.
Upon arrival into Stavanger the press was all over Boots like white on rice wanting to know how long it was going to take to prevent or minimize this delveloping environmental catastrophe. Boots was cordial, but only up to a point, and made a quick end to his "press conference." You'd have to know Boots to understand the patience he had with this sort of stuff.
The first part of the clip shows the Bravo blowout underway, the audio does not commence until Boots and Richard get off the Phillips company jet.
As one might expect with Boots in charge, it did not take very long for folks on the Bravo platform, most of them Americans, to start fessing up to some bad "pilot" error regarding failure of DHSV's and finally, the biggest f#ck up of it all, the BOP being picked up, stabbed over the flow and bolted up...upside down. That explained why the blind rams would not shut off the flow when closed. Boots and Richard adjusted the ram blocks, tried to turn the ram blocks upside down, or right side up, depending on how you viewed the situation, tried to kill the well by pump down efforts and re-tried to close the inverted blind rams, pipe rams and shear rams at the same time; nothing worked. Boots finally ordered blind ram blocks that would close in the upside down BOP and fabrication of those blocks began, post haste, in Aberdeen. The well blew for seven days while surface control efforts were undertaken and the new blocks are being made.
Here is rare photograph of the well actually blowing out through the upside down BOP with one of the pipe rams out and the window open.
Red and Boots; 1977 Bravo Blowout
On the day the new blocks arrived from Aberdeen, Red showed up from Texas. In their respective biographies written years later, Red and Boots had different accounts of what happened from this point on in the Bravo blowout; Red took credit for the ram block alterations and controlling the well; Boots said that Red yaked to the press while he and Richard unbolted the ram windows a fourth time in the BOP body and installed the new blocks. Some Phillips engineers estimated the flowing pressure up thru the stack at 4.5 to 6.0K PSI.
Red Adair, Bravo blowout, 1977
Once the new blind rams were installed and closed the flow diminished to an extent a spool and full opening valve could be stabbed on the bottom (top) of the BOP, the well was pumped dead and shut in.
I asked Boots once about this Bravo well after the release of Red's book in 1991. I believe his accounts of the ram block fabrication had to have been accurate given the time line of events. The entire job lasted eight days and Red did not show up until day six or seven.
In any case the first blowout of any kind in the North Sea was over. In very heavy seas and 60 MPH winds most of the oil from the blowout disbursed.
Richard Hatteberg, post capping autopsy; Bravo 1977
Boots Hansen, facing forward, Bravo Platform, 1977
In December of 1977, seven months after the Bravo blowout, and a few days before Christmas, Red fired Boots Hansen and Coots Matthews. In Red's book, An America Hero, Red said they quit but I actually have a copy of the letter Red wrote to Boots and Coots giving them the boot. The following year Boots and Coots went into business for themselves and their first year had more than four million dollars of revenue in the well control business. In 1979 Red made history once again when he was involved in the Ixtoc blowout in the Gulf of Mexico.
Firing Boots and Coots, after 19 years together, created many years of very hard feelings between Boots and Red. Coots and Red sort of made up after some time had past, however, and were always friendly to each other. As late as 1996 Red, Coots, David Thompson and myself had lunch together one afternoon at a steak house on the Katy Freeway. We got kinda drunk and I simply sat there spell bound as Red and Coots told stories for two hours. Neither one of them could hear worth a shit from all the blowouts they were on over the decades so they were hollering at each other at the table, telling the most unbelievable stories you could possibly imagine. The entire restaurant sat there in disbelief and listened, silently, like an E.F. Hutton commercial was underway. When we left the steakhouse a lot of people stood and applauded Red and Coots. Personally, I'll never forget that as long as I live. It was fantastic.
The rift between Red and Boots never healed entirely. It was a struggle for me to even get them to agree to be in the same documentary together regarding well control history in 2003. Red and Coots have now, of course, both passed away; Richard Hatteberg is still living large and Boots is fighting the good fight against cancer in Florida at the age of 92.
Boots Hansen, Kuwait, 1991
Boots Hansen went to work for Myron Kinley in 1957 on the recommendation of Red, who knew Boots from stock car racing. When Red left Myron in 1958 to form the Red Adair Company he took Coots with him; Boots stayed behind with Myron for another 8 months before joining the Red Adair Company himself. He was with Red Adair and Coots Matthews in Algeria in 1963.
Boots was a hard, very intense, but incredibly resourceful man. In my research regarding the history of the well control profession and the study of some of the wells that Boots Hansen was on over his long career I came to decide he was as tough as anyone, maybe tougher, and had very keen, almost brilliant engineering skills. His career will always take a back seat to Red Adair's but I think that is very unfortunate. He was one the very best, ever, in his chosen profession and the worldwide oil and natural gas industry owes Boots Hansen a great deal of respect and admiration.
Bravo, Boots Hansen!
An American Hero; the Biography of Red Adair
Just Having Fun; the Biography of Boots Hansen
New York Times Digital Archives
World Oil Magazine
Society of Petroleum Engineers
Personal Conversations with Boots & Coots, 1992-1997