Poland; 1980

Not very many folks likely know that the country of Poland is actually a little oily. It lays claim to one of the first commercial oil discoveries in the world drilled in 1853 in the Bobrka region. The discovery was significant enough at the time to have actually built a nearby refinery, one of the first in all of Europe. The discovery well in Bobrka still makes a barrel of oil per day, for historic reasons, its rig reconstructed, above.

An interesting exploration effort was made in 1980 near Kerlino, Poland in the north, near the Baltic Sea, in something called the Pomeranian Uplift. This was an area of known oil seeps, shallow, abandoned wells from the early 1900's and small but commercial natural gas fields. The Polish Gas and Mining Company, the predecessor to Polish Oil and Gas Exploration Company (PGNiG) undertook a wildcat well on a beautiful looking structure on the upthrown side of a down to the coast fault that was delineated with 2D seismic.

The PGNiG, Daszewo D-1 exploratory well drilled into it's primary target some 150 feet structurally higher than anticipated. The well blew out on December 9, 1980 at a depth of approximately 8,790 feet in a Carboniferous age dolomite.

BOP systems failed and surface control was completely lost. The well caught fire almost immediately and the rig burned. The blowout flow was a mixture of gas cap gas and underlying oil and so hot was the fire that frozen trees in the nearby forest warmed up enough to grow new leaves.

In 1980 Poland was in a severe economic recession and the entire country was engaged in public protests and labor strikes. Nevertheless PGNiG elected to fight this fire itself and not use American well control companies. It relied heavily on Russian advice and that country has a history of dealing with its own well control issues.

The Polish army was engaged to clear forest, build roads and water sources to fight the fire. Within days of the initial loss of control on the D-1 well, two new wells were spudded on the same structure, the DR-1K and 2K, both designed to be production wells, or relief wells, if necessary.

With Russia offering advice the use of heavy artillery was implemented from the get-go, naturally. Shooting shit up with tanks and field artillery was a common well control technique for Russia, even to the point of using nuclear devices. Some 30 rounds of big, 152 MM artillery were fired into the BOP stack to try and knock it off the casing flange. They scored numerous direct hits, as evidenced by the remains of the BOP now located in a museum outside Kerlino, above. These hits made the fire go in all different directions but the relentless bombardment continued until, ultimately, the BOP stack surrendered and fell over severely wounded.

(Coots Matthews always wanted to try this shooting-artillery-at-a-well-head "thing," he told me once, and got to do so in Kuwait in 1991, in Burgan Field, with an American Abrams M-1A1 tank. They fired several rounds at a burning well to little avail other than to knock all the coke off the wellhead so they could work on it, Coots said, adding... "it sure was fun").

Using the same Athey wagon tracks and boom design that Myron Kinley developed in the 1920's, Russian and Polish well control hands were able to then pull the BOP stack completely off the well. The late Pat Campbell might have then suggested the stack be "arrested," instead it was sent in for an autopsy where it was determined the accumulator had failed completely.

With the blowout flow going straight up the well was swarmed with people, and water, and eventually the fire was knocked out on January 2, 1981, almost a month after the blowout first occurred.

With the fire out this job got to be a very cold son of a bitch. It was an unusual winter in January 1981 along the Baltic sea and there were a number of consecutive days early in the month of -20, -30 degree F weather. To prevent re-ignition while the damaged BOP stack was recovered and new flanges installed to the surface casing, etc., a constant stream of water was placed on the wellhead assembly, as seen in the photos above and below. It was not heated water either. It might have been possible to build sort of a shed, or lean-to, above the well, to keep it from raining water down on hands, but nevertheless those men were constantly soaked. It must have been miserable. If being wet in sub zero air wouldn't make a serious vodka drinker out of you at the end of the work day, nothing would.

A very large, over-designed capping stack was built in Ploiesti, Romania for this well. It was set with a big crane and blind rams closed while on diverter. Within a couple of days there was very little flow from the well and it was shut in completely.

Some 30,000 tons of oil and an unknown quantity of gas was lost in the capping procedure of the Daszewo D-1. Later, the gas cap in the structure was found to be completely blown down and BHP gone. Once the well was put on production it struggled to make 900 tons of oil before going to water. A Polish engineer was reported to say that if it has taken another week to cap the blowout the reservoir would have been completely depleted.

The blowout well, relief wells and subsequent develop wells in the Daszewo Field now act as injection wells for a gas storage facility.

Kerlino, Poland, 1981

Poland has significant oil production in shallow water of the Baltic sea (B3 Field) and several marginally successful gas fields. New discoveries keep popping up, even today in the Lublin Basin along the Ukrainian border.

Hope sprang eternal in 2007 regarding a potential shale gas play in north central Poland, near Poznan, and Chevron, Marathon and Talisman drilled and frac'ed the stuff, though none of it turned out being commercial. When they found out if was not going to make money, they stopped drilling the stuff. Imagine that.

After many decades Poland is slowly is weaning itself away from Russia natural gas with the help of LNG from Qatar, Australia and even the US.