Worker injured in Prudhoe Bay well explosion

Posted: Tuesday, August 20, 2002

ANCHORAGE (AP) -- A BP Exploration (Alaska) Inc. worker was badly injured in an explosion caused by an underground casing failure at Prudhoe Bay.

Natural gas shot up the well and into a small metal building housing the wellhead, said BP spokesman Ronnie Chappell. The Friday blast knocked loose floorboards and damaged valves and electrical gear.

''It was a powerful event,'' Chappell said.

Most likely, a spark from this maelstrom ignited the gas, badly burning oil worker Don Shugak, who was outside the wellhouse. The worker was intending to relieve a pressure buildup that had been detected in the well, Chappell said. It took BP six hours to put out the fire by pouring sea water down the well.

Shugak is in the burn unit at Harborview Medical Center in Seattle, being treated for injuries that include burns on his hands, arms and face, plus leg, hip and other bone breaks.

The well is among three dozen producing oil and injection wells on Prudhoe Bay's A Pad. It had been out of service because of pressure buildup but had been checked out and put back into service the night of the explosion, Chappell said. At 2:10 a.m. Friday, high pressure down in the well caused a casing failure, which allowed gas to rush to the surface, Chappell told the Anchorage Daily News.

The well's safety valves worked as designed, but they were above the point at which the casing failure occurred, Chappell said. He said the pressure release overwhelmed the well's surface systems.

BP is investigating to make sure the company followed all procedures in the hours leading up to the explosion, Chappell said. He estimated the probe could take a few more days.

By Monday, most of A Pad was back in production. Wells on the 60-acre gravel pad produce about 11,000 barrels of crude oil a day.

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