Tag Archives: piper alpha

Wild Well Control Sort of Like Thunderbirds

The history of emergency services out in the wilds is as fascinating as any thriller written about spies and cops and robbers. Of course for those outside this industry their contact with the like of Wild Well Control has been no more than an old movie and occasional TV news items.

poster of John Wayne in front of a well fire .
Original poster for the 1968 movie

John Wayne played a character called Chance Buckman in a 1968 film about a hard nosed oil fire fighting outfit. Apart from that these people, the ones we hope to never call, largely go unnoticed.

The Glory Days

There probably were earlier examples of controlling a runaway well but the recognised grandfather of the emergency control business was Myron M Kinley’s dad. In 1913 Karl Kinley used dynamite to ‘blow’ out a gushing fire in California. Myron and his brother took the primitive technique and became the pioneers to call when everything went pear shaped.

black and white of a caucasion male in a wax style coat and hat.
Myron M Kinley. Pioneer innovator in the field of oil fire fighting.

From him you got the like of Red Adair, the charismatic celebrity of the oil fire business. Adair, who John Wayne was said to have been loosely portraying, was the main man in the industry for many years. He, along with Wild Well, were one of the contractors that tackled the Kuwaiti fields when they were torched by retreating Iraqi troops.  Earlier he had been called in to the tragic aftermath of the Piper Alpha disaster.

black and white of Red Adair in suit, dark hair
Red Adair in 1964.

Many of the next generation in this specialist field learned from the like of Adair. Among those that moulded early efforts into a fine art and adapted operations to Thunderbirds standards was one Joe R Bowden Sr.

The Battle for Elgin

In 2012 in the Elgin field (main platform) work was underway to seal a well. Things went very wrong. Petrol condensate fired into the air and 238 personnel from Elgin and two other operations were evacuated.  Later reports concluded that luck had played a big part in preserving life. Fortunately the winds stopped a inflammable cloud from coming into contact with the flaming stack.

150 miles away in Aberdeen, Scotland, there happened to be a Wild Well Control staging point.  The idea Bowden Sr developed was to maintain a base in Texas, however, put the heavy kit required for emergencies near where you may need  it.

A system failure in February 2012 led to repairs and the attempt to close the well. After ten days control was lost. It took a further fifty one days to bring the crisis to a point it could be managed. Unfortunately by that time thousands of tons of condensate had settled on the sea. Understandably marine conservationists were less than happy.

French giant, Total,  was fined later for safety breaches that led to the accident but far worse for them was the year the platform was offline.

Wild Well Control’s 80%

That is the  share of the Thunderbirds type business that Wild Well have. They claim even more customer loyalty in the oil and gas industry in the USA.  More importantly from my point of view they bring their unique experience into the safety and preventative field. They have dedicated HSE teams which give an insight into the importance of safety procedures that have real clout.

I hope you never NEED to contact them, however, if you want to look at this specialist area  with a view to your future they promise excellent training. Click here.