I have the most wonderful people read my stuff sometimes and want to share with me 'their' stories they have about working with Kinley, or Red, or Boot and Coots; I get things sent to me in the mail occasionally from good men located all over the world. It warms my heart; I am grateful to one and all. It means a lot to me to hear from you.
So it was a few days ago when I got a nice letter from a gentleman from Covington, Louisiana, a Chance Buckman hard hat sticker and a nice selfie of this man's battle worn, hardhat with a Boots and Coots sticker on the front. This hard hat had character and immediately created a vision of a life time of hard work, toil and trouble, offshore and in the swamps, marshes and bugs of Louisiana. I was very taken with that hard hat. Thank you, Charlie. This little reminder of some important, Louisiana offshore history is for you, hand. And for all good, hard working men and women in the Louisiana oil field...that can always do it with a smile on their face, a good story, and a ice cold beer at the end of a hard day.
Bay Marchand Salt Dome lies in 20-50 feet of water right off the beach in Port Furchon, Laforuche Parish, Louisiana. In lateral extent and total height, the dome is as big as Mount Everest, literally (AAPG). Gulf Oil found this dome, or series of domes along a buried ridge in 1929, first with gravity methods, then a few years later confirmed with refraction seismic. This massive thing must have stuck out a big of fat, swollen thumb.
The Marchand salt dome had twelve dry holes drilled on the flanks of it before The California Company (Standard) made the first discovery on it in 1949 in shallow Pleistocene sands; the Miocene was tested on this dome at a TD of 21,000 feet many years later and even some very deep sub salt wells have been drilled through Marchand. Three and four dimensional seismic has now identified over 670 individual traps, from structural to stratigraphic, associated with Bay Marchand salt dome! Mount Everest seems about right to me.
I don't know how many wells have been drilled on this feature over the years; a bunch. Bay Marchand has produced about 800MM BO since 1949 and is now getting re-worked where more accumulations of oil are getting found; ultimate recovery is estimated to over 1 Gbo. Several wells have been below salt but so far, not so good. Talos use to operate a big piece of Marchand and if you please recall took some unnecessary responsibility for a ruptured pipeline just last year, after Hurricane Ida. A Louisiana outfit named Cantium owns several large blocks on the Marchand salt feature today.
Shell Platform B
In 1970 Shell was operating 22 producing wells on Platform B in Bay Marchand and was cranking out an estimated 17,000 BOPD and 38MMCF of gas per day. With slots for some 55 total wells, one additional well was being completed and one was awaiting completion the fall of 1970.
In late November of 1970 the B-21 well plugged with internal epoxy coating (corrosion protection) in the production tubing and wireline work was initiated to clear the obstruction, a knife cutter similar to what might be used to cut paraffin was implemented. Progress was slow and the hands took a lunch break. In a hurry to get to shrimp 'po boys, some worm left the master valve open below the lubricator. A wad of epoxy coating got blown up hole while everybody was eating, hit the squeeze head on top of the lubricator, launched it into the air and 4000 feet of wireline and cutters were blown into the sea. The well caught fire almost immediately. The well head slots were close to one another, it wasn't long before several other production wells also caught fire below deck.
Within hours the entire platform was engulfed. Four men perished and 37 others were injured, many with serious burns. They're only escape was by bailing out over the rails into open ocean. A PHI helicopter pilot perished trying to pick up a burned hand floating in the the water nearby.
By day three the WO derrick and platform cranes had collapsed and the entire platform began to melt from the outside, in. Other production wells caught fire, well heads laid over on top of each other, under platform substructure and it was one big stinking mess. All together, nine wells were on fire.
Red and Coots made the initial trip out to the platform and Coots told me once during a documentary I was writing the script for that well heads and platform structure looked like a big bowl of pasta. Some wells were on fire, others were blowing, nobody could tell which well was which. He and Red retrieved three bodies and retreated, little else to do.
Under Adair's supervision the wells were left burning to minimize environmental harm and barges were rigged out to pump massive amounts of sea water on well heads leaning from intense heat, but not burning. Two barges and several work boats combined to pump 20MM BWPD on the platform.
In spite of the burning, numerous large oil slicks appeared miles away from the well and on the beaches of Grand Isle. Skimmers and oil recovery teams worked around the clock. Months later an oil slick appeared in the Bay of Campeche, Mexico and was determined to be Bay Marchand oil from Platform B.
Within six days of the initial blowout. Shell had spud its first of five relief wells and by December 30th the B-21 well was intersected and killed with mud. The platform fire and oil flow into the sea was reduced by half with the killing of the one well. By February of 1971 a total of five relief wells were underway with planned intersections of five different wells, all of them producing from different reservoirs at different depths. In the photo below we can see those five rigs working in close proximity to the burning platform to reduce deviation to intersect.
Slowly but surely Shell picked off burning or blowing wells one by one, some required massive pumping of sea water and mud to kill.
Below is a little video clip of mine used in some presentations about the history of the well control profession and there is some really good, close in footage of the Bay Marchand incident, at the time the worse loss of surface control in Gulf of Mexico history. The good stuff starts at about the 1:00 minute mark and lasts about 55 seconds.
The B-9 well was intersected with a relief well in mid February, it took 13 days and 236,000 BW to kill it. By late April 1971, all but two of the nine wells on fire at Platform B had bridged or were pumped dead at relief well intersections. Well B-18 was one of the only wells on the platform that had rate actuated storm choke valve in it. Its tree had been badly damaged by fire and was leaking at what was believed to be the tubing hanger. From a nearby barge, Shell personal fired nine, 30-6 rounds from a rifle into a wing valve on the production tubing which caused the valve to rupture and engage the down hole safety valve. Within a few hours that well was dead.
April, 1971. Platform B is essentially gone. Above the water line are assorted well heads intact or burned into nothing but not blowing because of relief well intersections.
The last well on the platform, the B-4 well was TD'd in a particularly complex fault block that made intersection by two different relief wells, steered from different directions, nearly impossible; several kick offs were made but to no avail.
Adair decided the B-4 could be capped from the surface and he and Boots poured sea water to it from a dozen water monitors located on the nearby work barge and put the fire out. The casing was cut below the damaged well head with a sand line and surface casing peeled back exposing the production string, which was cut again, mechanically. A flanged casing head with lock down screws was snubbed over the blowout flow to the production casing; a two ram BOP stack with a spool below it was lowered over the production casing, spun on to the casing head and bolted down. The well was put on diverter just long enough to be pumped dead with sea water and after 136 days, nine well fires had been extinguished, capped and killed on Bay Marchand Platform B.
This old film of the entire Bay Marchand incident is well worth watching, if you have the time.
In 1984 this was a photo taken of Bay Marchand, Platforms A, C and D, I believe. C platform is built directly over the top of the remains of B and on clear, windless days in the winter, when the water is clear, you can look over the rails and still see debris from B down below.
Bay Marchand; Cantium
I try very hard to always get my facts straight; sometimes I mess up, but never intentionally. In summarizing these well control events I try to keep it short and sweet but there there is always additional stuff to be found, you just have to dig it up. And I mean, dig. And there are always at least four takes on the same event. My apologies to any folks that were actually in attendance at Bay Marchand for even the smallest of historical errors.
All hands save a hard hat or two over the years. They mean something to us for one reason or another; maybe it was a good rig we worked on, with good friends, a near death experience, or just a hard hat with a few stickers on it of jobs past and places seen. We keep them on a desk, on a shelf out in the shop, or for me on a wall with blowout photographs; they're often reminders of how tough we use to be, I think, and the older we get the more we need those reminders.
I never kept any hard hats from when I was a kid; they were all aluminum, I remember that. I have two that I did save of my long oily life, one from my well control days and a third one that Boots wore in Kuwait in 1991.
There is one of Myron Kinley's aluminum hardhats floating around somewhere, I hope, that is screwed into the top of a football helmet, complete with a nose guard, circ. 1933. The well was blowing lots of rocks, my notes say, and Kinley thought it was a good idea at the time.
There are a lot of fake Adair hard hats you can buy on Ebay and places like that; you can tell immediately if they are real or not. Always look for torn stickers, dents, permanent oil stains, blood, sweat turned to salt, scrapes and fire-singed decals and stickers.
To kids and grandkids that have your dad's old hard hat; hang on to them. They meant something very important to somebody who use to work very hard, and took lots of chances with his life, to make yours a little better.