The Nuts and Bolts of Oil Spills

Massive Failed Bolt on a connector unit from a subsea well. Image from BSEE

US regulators warned subsea oil drillers and equipment makers that bolt failures in the Gulf of Mexico could result in an oil spill on the scale of the Deepwater Horizon disaster.

“Fortunately, as of today we’ve had no major catastrophes from bolt failures,” said Brian Salerno, director of the Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement  (BSEE) at the Department of the Interior, which oversees the offshore oil industry. “We believe it may only be a matter of time before our luck runs out….. The agency’s working group and a parallel task force set up by an oil industry trade group are trying to determine why critical metal fasteners have corroded and failed in recent years.

Regulators and makers of oil production equipment, including General Electric Co., Schlumberger Ltd. and National Oilwell Varco Inc., are trying to determine what is causing the failures, which have included premature corroding, stripping of threads or snapping outright. The problems have been found over the past four years on safety equipment in underwater oil production, including on blowout preventers, which are designed as a last defense against a major oil spill like the Deepwater Horizon incident in the Gulf of Mexico….

In 2013, GE recalled more than 10,000 bolts after a failure on one of its components, a blowout preventer connector, which led to a spill of more than 400 barrels of drilling fluid in the Gulf of Mexico…. Troy Trosclair, a BSEE supervisor for the Gulf of Mexico region, said Brazilian officials reported that 56 rigs working for Petróleo Brasileiro SA, or Petrobras, that country’s biggest oil producer, were affected by the 2013 GE recall

Excerpts from Ted Mann,U.S. Regulators Warn Drillers to Find Solution to Subsea Bolt Failures, Wall Street Journal,  Aug. 30, 2016

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