Vermilion Bay; 1938


A Brother & a Right Arm All Gone In One, Very Bad Day



The wonderful, old map, above, was generated in 1933 by The Oil Weekly Magazine (World Oil) and it shows known oil and gas fields, including salt domes, along the Texas Louisiana Gulf Coasts to that point in time. If you follow the coastline from Texas eastward you'll see Vermilion Bay in Vermilion Parish. In 1933 this terrific map would have cost you a buck, by the way.


If you look closer in Vermilion Bay there is a little red dot on the 1933 map with a circle around it, off Cypremort Point, the symbol indicative of a salt dome, likely identified by two dimension seismic shot in the late 1920's. The Texas Company snagged this block in Vermillion Bay bay in 1930, built a camp at the point and started picking away on the flanks of the salt dome finding some kick-ass gas wells. Most of their drilling lied on an oyster reef and the water depth was very shallow; barges were floated down the Acadia Channel from New Iberia, or over from Avery Island. The Texaco camp could be accessed down Highway 319, south, out of Jenerette.

The Texas Company; Vermilion Bay Field, Vermilion Parish. From 1938 to about 1989 the field produced 260 BCF and 4.0MM BO.

Besides the logistical problems of drilling in very shallow water, a long way from the dock, so to speak, the Texas Company had trouble drilling these wells. Shallow Miocene sands pushed against the salt wall had low frac gradients, would drink drilling mud like somebody pulled the plug on a bath tub and if the mud weight was dropped to keep from losing it all, the next minute the well would be blowing in your damn face and you'd have to start building weight again. Around salt domes you are constantly finding sands you never saw before, not seeing sands you bet the ranch were there; some are wet, some are loaded up with oil and gas and some are over pressured.


So, in May of 1938 Texaco found a sand on the SE flank of the dome that was loaded with gas and it got away from them.

After all attempts to pump the well dead failed, Texaco was able to turn loose of the drill pipe and float the drilling barge away from the well. A string of casing had previously been cemented in place and was left hanging in clamps from a wooden substructure at the end of a long dock. In the process of floating the barge off the well, a rig hand was killed. The photo below shows people in a pirogue actually looking for his body with a poles. Just inside the dock there is a man in a straw hand also looking for the body. He was eventually found in the mud in four feet of water.

H.L 'Pat' Patton, from Houston, was called for help and he arrived at Texaco's camp on May 28th with a half dozen or so family members on his team. Patton was an unusual character I urge you to get to know home better by following the link.


Just three months earlier, in the Rio Grande Valley near Edinburg, Pat Patton had sunk his prize winch truck, which he used almost all the time on blowouts, plum out of sight... in a crater blowing enormous amounts of water. Before abandoning the job and retreating back to Houston he was able to tie a dozer winch line onto the truck, drag it from the crater and eventually got it back to running and sufficiently dried out, ready for the next job to call in. We wrote about this job in the Valley on Oily Stuff, here. An over pressured Frio sand well in Texas kicked Patton's ass and he finally had to quit.

Upon Patton's arrival at the Texaco camp in Louisiana, his hands were loading the winch truck on a barge in New Iberia, along with his monster stinger/capping stack assembly for 8 inch casing, built in Houston by Hughes Tool Company, seen on the left. His truck design was complete with diverter and pump in lines to a manifold system up near the back of the cab. His 8 inch stinger/stack was a heavy son of a bitch that required ballast on the front of the truck to keep it from poppin' wheelies during capping efforts.


Capping stack/manifold with stinger assembly being prepared to back into well, below. The rig in the background was the rig on the blowout well that has now been towed to the back of the dock near the production facilities. It is awaiting orders to start drilling a relief well.


Stinger/ Stack preparation


The Patton clan was actually able to wiggle the barge in place and an entire day was lost trying to weld a swedge and half flange connection to the casing stub. That failed and the plan was abandoned. Plan B was to pick the stinger assembly up with the winch truck, snub it down to the 8 inch casing and bull-head down the stinger to kill the well, post haste. All of this was easier said than actually done, of course, even on land. From a barge it was difficult; the well was blowing hard and it took numerous attempts to get the well stung and weight of the stack on the casing stub.


On the right, stinging the well underway...


Once stung, the seal assembly below his capping stack was never quite perfected by Patton and caused him numerous problems over the years. All kinds of lead seals were tried, few worked perfectly. In the absence of a flange to flange connection the only means of securing his stinger to the casing was a elaborate system of chains, booms, wire rope anchors and clamps. So it was on the Texaco well in 1938.


In the photo above the stinger is in the casing and, as you can see, leaking like hell around the entire assembly. Halliburton is loaded up and ready to rock on an adjoining barge. The Patton synch down crew, below, is ready to do their thing. They have all their chains, boomers, turnbuckles, etc. all laid out on the barge deck. When they are finished securing the stack to the casing the best they can it will be a mass of shit everywhere, all designed to keep the whole thing blowing off the casing like bottle rocket. I have published photos of this mass of hold downs in other articles about Pat Patton; man, this always made me nervous. To me it looked like a birds nest of an accident looking to kill somebody.


Patton's boys got the Texaco B-2 well all snugged down the best they could and commenced to pumping mud down the stinger, as fast as they could. They emptied the barge of sack mud and the well appeared to be dead on Saturday evening, June 13. It was shut in and the boys went to town to celebrate.


The following morning at day break Texaco hands found everything was leaking badly around the stinger, the SICP on the manifold was approaching 14K PSI and things were going from bad, to worse.


Patton ordered two hands out to the capping stack to open valves and release pressure back thru the manifold and diverter lines. Pat Patton's brother, Will had climbed up on the stack, as had another man named Richardson, when the entire thing blew off the well, killing Will Patton instantly, nearly decapitating him. The Richardson man was no where to be seen.


Patton, observing his brother laying face down in the water ran across the barge to jump in after him when pieces of chain and turnbuckles flew off the well with such force they hit him in the chest and almost severed his right arm completely off at the shoulder.


He was taken in a float plane to Morgan City but what was left of his arm could not be saved and was amputated. His brother was pronounced dead and the search began for the Richardson man. He was found two days later in the nearby marsh.

Pat Patton's son, on the job with his father, resumed the effort to re-sting the well that Sunday evening. Monday morning, Pat Patton flew back to the well on a Texaco float plane, his arm gone, his shirt sleeve pinned to his chest. The pain must have been unbearable, as was the emotional loss of losing two men, including his brother. Patton carried on. They re-stung the well and killed it with 400 sacks of mud followed by 300 sacks of cement.







Mr. Patton worked in the well control business another 13 years, with one arm. His winch truck was used in West Texas in 1942, which I will write about someday and numerous times over the years, until the early 1950's when he began to get out the well control business and into real estate north of Houston.


H.L. Patton ( 1889-1989); 1942-43 photo, right arm missing. Please note the turnbuckles, chains and clamps squeezing this stinger down over the casing stub.


The early years of the well control profession were full of tough, single minded men, like Patton, and of course, Myron Kinley, who also lost a brother on a blowout in Goliad County, Texas in 1936. Their well control careers were based on completing the job they were hired to do, at any cost. Kinley worked almost his entire career with a bad limp and his entire back side deeply scared from burns, Patton worked hundreds of blowouts with only one arm.


'Tough' does not sufficiently describe these men and their profession. Having written and spoken about well control history the past 20 years, I am still amazed sometimes how incredibly resilient those men truly were. The role they played in helping develop, and often save, the worldwide oil and natural gas industry is worth our great respect.



Nor was the word 'tough' adequate to describe one of America's most fascinating, and often controversial presidents, Theodore Roosevelt (1958-1919). This man's incredible dedication to conservation and the preservation of our nations lands, lakes, rivers and coastlines were exemplary. If you ever read of Mr. Roosevelts travels and his philosophies on life, you will be amazed. His "last chance at being a boy," as he described it, was in South America in 1912, after his two terms of presidency. The book, River of Doubt about his travels in the Amazon region is an unforgettable read.


Roosevelt was quite fond of Louisiana and after his presidency, would wander over Louisiana's barrier islands to catch redfish now and then and just take in the surroundings; he was an avid bird watcher and a staunch supporter of coastal bird habitat preservation.


Below is President Roosevelt in Louisiana in 1915, three years after he was shot in the chest at point blank range in Wisconsin in an assassination attempt, and four years before his ultimate death from a blood clot in his lungs. He was 60 years old when he died.

President Roosevelt, I fear, would be sadden greatly by Southern Louisiana today. Since 1950, over 80,000 acres of marsh have been lost in Vermilion Bay, as have many hundreds of thousands of acres all over the state's coastlines. There seems little doubt that a maze of canals, well locations, spoils, turnaround basins, and pipeline right of ways has helped facilitate this incredible loss of land mass. Louisiana has historically played a major role in meeting America's insatiable appetite for oil and gas; it has not come without a price.



References

[1] Louisiana Digital Library, Louisiana Department of Environmental Quality;

All Photos by D.E. Fuelhart

[2] An American Hero, The Red Adair Story; Philip Singerman, 1990

[3] Notes from Myron Kinley's family files.

[4] Various newspaper articles.

[5] Louisiana Audubon Organization, Tim Scott; The Times Picayune

[6] Wikipedia; Theodore Roosevelt