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Apache prevents blowout at exploratory Gulf of Mexico well

19 February 2013

Apache Corp. says it detected an underground flow of natural gas at the site of a shallow-water exploratory well it was drilling in the Gulf of Mexico on February 4. Tests revealed natural gas had migrated from the bottom of the well, about 8,261 feet below the seafloor, to a sand formation about 1,100 feet below the seafloor. The rig was drilling in 218 feet of water.

The company evacuated 15 non-essential workers and shut in the well, located about 50 miles east of Venice, Louisiana, after preventing a blowout. About 50 workers remained on board, and there were no injuries.

In a statement posted on its website on February 14, the Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement, which oversees the safety of offshore energy operations, said Apache successfully activated the blowout preventer aboard the jack-up rig to stop natural gas from flowing to the surface. No gas or other pollution has been detected at the location, but additional testing found an underground flow of natural gas, the BSEE said.

A blowout preventer is a valve system that can supply thousands of pounds of pressure to seal off a well in case of an emergency. The 2010 Deepwater Horizon accident, which has been attributed to a combination of factors including a failed cement job at the bottom of the well and a blowout preventer that failed to close, prompted an increase in regulatory scrutiny in the Gulf. That has included stricter blowout-preventer inspection and maintenance requirements.

Apache said it is now working with well-control experts to stop the flow of natural gas below the seafloor. At the BSEE's direction, Apache is readying another rig to bring to the site in case a relief well needs to be drilled.

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