The Gulf oil rig explosion – on the scene photos

Regular WUWT commenter Jimmy Haigh, a geologist by trade, sends along a PDF that is a compilation of on the scene photos taken right after the explosion and in the following two days. I’ve converted it to web format. These were taken by people on the scene during the rescue and firefighting operation. There’s also a narrative, done by a person “in the know”. You won’t find this at AP or Reuters.

Taken shortly after the explosion. Note the mast is still intact, visible through the flames.

You may have heard the news in the last week about the Deepwater Horizon drilling rig which caught fire, burned for two days, then sank in 5,000 ft of water in the Gulf of Mexico. There are still 11 men missing, and they are not expected to be found.

The rig belongs to Transocean, the world’s biggest offshore drilling contractor. The rig was originally contracted through the year 2013 to BP and was working on BP’s Macondo exploration well when the fire broke out. The rig costs about $500,000 per day to contract. The full drilling spread, with helicopters and support vessels and other services, will cost closer to $1,000,000 per day to operate in the course of drilling for oil and gas. The rig cost about $350,000,000 to build in 2001 and would cost at least double that to replace today.

The rig represents the cutting edge of drilling technology. It is a floating rig, capable of working in up to 10,000 ft water depth. The rig is not moored; It does not use anchors because it would be too costly and too heavy to suspend this mooring load from the floating structure. Rather, a triply-redundant computer system uses satellite positioning to control powerful thrusters that keep the rig on station within a few feet of its intended location, at all times. This is called Dynamic Positioning.

The rig had apparently just finished cementing steel casing in place at depths exceeding 18,000 ft. The next operation was to suspend the well so that the rig could move to its next drilling location, the idea being that a rig would return to this well later in order to complete the work necessary to bring the well into production.

It is thought that somehow formation fluids – oil /gas – got into the wellbore and were undetected until it was too late to take action. With a floating drilling rig setup, because it moves with the waves, currents, and winds, all of the main pressure control equipment sits on the seabed – the uppermost unmoving point in the well. This pressure control equipment – the Blowout Preventers, or ‘BOP’s” as they’re called, are controlled with redundant systems from the rig. In the event of a serious emergency, there are multiple Panic Buttons to hit, and even fail-safe Deadman systems that should be automatically engaged when something of this proportion breaks out. None of them were aparently activated, suggesting that the blowout was especially swift to escalate at the surface. The flames were visible up to about 35 miles away. Not the glow – the flames. They were 200 – 300 ft high.

All of this will be investigated and it will be some months before all of the particulars are known. For now, it is enough to say that this marvel of modern technology, which had been operating with an excellent safety record, has burned up and sunk taking souls with it.

The well still is apparently flowing oil, which is appearing at the surface as a slick. They have been working with remotely operated vehicles, or ROV’s which are essentially tethered miniature submarines with manipulator arms and other equipment that can perform work underwater while the operator sits on a vessel. These are what were used to explore the Titanic, among other things. Every floating rig has one on board and they are in constant use. In this case, they are deploying ROV’s from dedicated service vessels. They have been trying to close the well in using a specialized port on the BOP’s and a pumping arrangement on their ROV’s. They have been unsuccessful so far. Specialized pollution control vessels have been scrambled to start working the spill, skimming the oil up.

In the coming weeks they will move in at least one other rig to drill a fresh well that will intersect the blowing one at its pay zone. They will use technology that is capable of drilling from a floating rig, over 3 miles deep to an exact specific point in the earth – with a target radius of just a few feet plus or minus. Once they intersect their target, a heavy fluid will be pumped that exceeds the formation’s pressure, thus causing the flow to cease and rendering the well safe at last. It will take at least a couple of months to get this done, bringing all available technology to bear. It will be an ecological disaster if the well flows all of the while; Optimistically, it could bridge off downhole.

It’s a sad day when something like this happens to any rig, but even more so when it happens to something on the cutting edge of our capabilities.

The photos that follow show the progression of events over the 36 hours from catching fire to sinking.

First, what the rig looked like.

The drilling mast has toppled over here – they usually melt pretty fast when fire breaks out.

Support vessels using their fire fighting gear to cool the rig.

From about 10 miles away – dawn of Day 1

Support vessels using their fire fighting gear to cool the rig – note the list developing

About noon Day 1 – List is pronounced now

Early morning Day 2 – Note the hole burned through the aluminum helideck

Day 2, morning – settling quite low in the water now – fuel and oil slick forming

See also satellite images of the oil slick here

Support vessels using their fire fighting gear to cool the rig


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R. Gates

Thanks for sharing this Anthony. There is no upside to this tragedy. From the loss of life, to the financial and environmental damages, everyone loses.


Wow! This narrative and pictures puts context into the statement by David Hayes of Interior that no new wells will be drilled until the cause of this incident is known. I hadn’t realized that this was a new well. Who else is drilling in the Gulf? Are other nations drilling also?

Rhoda R

Thank you Mr Haigh, that’s more information than we’ve received since this began.


are the flotation vessels used for some purpose? I would have thought they would be hatched off.

Richard Sharpe
Dave in Delaware

Thank you for this in depth background article.
It seems that the body of text is copied in twice, beginning with –
“You may have heard the news in the last two days about the Deepwater Horizon drilling rig …
[Thanx, fixed. ~dbs, mod.]

Layne Blanchard

There are two copies of the text back to back at the moment…

Pat Moffitt

Anyone know (outside of human risk) the pros and cons of trying to put the rig fire out?


Great pictures and story. However, most of the narative is replicated; it should be edited so just one version is visible. Thanks for the story, Jimmy!
REPLY: There’s a strange dupli-thing that happens with WordPress sometimes repeating text that is pasted in. I didn’t notice but is fixed now. -A

the text appears to be duplicated.
i really appreciate that you have posted this. you’re absolutely right there is no place else to find information like this.
[Fixed, thanx. ~dbs, mod.]

Sean Peake

Did anyone get off it or is it all hands lost?

If you can pass a question on. I was aware this was a drilling rig and not a production platform, if they had just finished laying in a casing is it possible that they had steel in the well when it blew and that prevented the BOPs from closing?
It was also reported that there were leaks in three locations, does anyone know where the main and secondary leaks are in the seabed systems around the well?


Anthony/ Jimmy/or anyone else in the know: Based on what has transpired to date, how do you rate the “Stop the Leak” and “Clean up the Mess” operation? Currently have the strong impression that, if anything, the Feds have only made the problem worse by their slow and bumbling action/inaction.
From a “climate” perspective – What does all this oil do to Gulf Coast weather? Hotter Summer, Cooler Summer, Machts Nichts?


wOw! You won’t get this kind of info off the evening news.
Thanks, Jimmy and Anthony.

Tom in Co.

This just doesn’t make sense, if the well was just cased and cemented that would leave the well totally isolated from the down hole formation fluids. It might be possible that they did not control down hole pressure and some oil (and more importantly gas) was circulated up ahead of the cement slurry, but even that would give all sorts of obvious signs that would have set off alarms. There are panic buttons in several places on the platform that would have automatically shut in the well on the seabed, but none of them had been activated. The oil and gas was 18,000 feet deep, it does not blow out instantaneously. The well would have to displace thousands of gallons of fluid in the wellbore first.
So a highly unlikely and sudden explosion occurs on a state of the art drilling rig, on the eve of Earth Day, just a few weeks after an announcement of increased offshore drilling.
I think that the investigation of this disaster should also include a background check of everyone involved just to be prudent.


Tragic. This business is not without risk; I just hope that they can activate BOPs. Have heard conflicting info on that point.


Wow. Those pics are phenomenal. And sad at the same time.

Thanks – this answers a lot of questions that the MSM couldn’t think of asking. It’s getting to the point that if the news item has any technical angle, there’s no point in looking to the MSM for coverage.
I guess it back to the drawing boards for BOPs, etc.
Does anyone know what the pressure is at the wellhead?
BTW, there’s a big chunk of duplicate text, but that’s probably been reported several times already.


Oh wow! Maybe that should be woe! But what a scoop!


These photos are amazing, thanks for the posting. I follow another blog written by an oil industry insider who has a good perspective on comparable situations. Its worth look.

john ratcliffe

Text is posted twice.
[Fixed, thanx. ~dbs]


Lets don’t let that happen to Guam!


The text is duplicated.
[Fixed, thanx. ~dbs]

nelle maxey

Can you please explain what caused the “explosion and fire”?


Something’s wrong with the numbers. You say the rig is capable of operating in up to 10,000 ft, and then in the next paragraph say it was drilling at 18,000 ft.


Great photos…
I think you have a double-paste in the body of the article (Repeats).
[Fixed, thanx. ~dbs, mod.]

CRS, Dr.P.H.

Thank you for posting, Anthony! These are amazing, hellish photos….
This is an interesting site for those curious about these types of disasters:
I do remember the Piper Alpha explosion, and this site lists many more. Damn shame, since we cannot grow lax on oil & gas development.
The spill is a bad one, all for the lack of purchase of a $500,000 secondary acoustic shutoff valve!!

Rick K

Great information and photos, Anthony. Thanks.


Thanks, fascinating stuff.
But most of the text is repeated.
[Fixed, thanx. ~dbs, mod.]

Milwaukee Bob

First, may they RIP, those lost.
Then, Thank You to Jimmy Haigh for a great report here and to Jeff L at 10:44 pm, 4/30 – Pat Moffitt at 11:19 pm, 4/30 – AleaJactaEst at 12:18 am, 5/1 – Carlos Goncalves at 5:22 am, 5/1 ALL on the previous post on this tragedy. And again, to you Anthony, for providing the form in which we can all participate, learn the facts AND ask questions. Truly astounding how vast and knowledgeable the “participants” here-in are.
The Truth will set you free.


Well we can expect all the crazy conspiracies to start coming out.
Such a disaster, an utter catastrophe in every possible sense of what occurred. Off shore drilling is not paying off nearly as well as we’d like it to be. It’s good, but it’s costing a lot of lives, and these events are way too common, but not usually to this scale. The ecological effects are going to be bad to say the least.

Douglas DC

other nations drilling in the Gulf:Russia, China, possibly Venezuela….
I know there are other planning…


If closer off-shore drilling were allowed, the complexities of drilling in deeper water may be avoided.

Amino Acids in Meteorites

No upside R Gates? There better be an upside of advocating drilling on land in Alaska, and other onshore locations, so these type of incidents offshore can be reduced because demand is being met by onshore drilling.

Amino Acids in Meteorites

Pascvaks says:
May 1, 2010 at 9:20 am
Anthony/ Jimmy/or anyone else in the know: Based on what has transpired to date, how do you rate the “Stop the Leak” and “Clean up the Mess” operation? Currently have the strong impression that, if anything, the Feds have only made the problem worse by their slow and bumbling action/inaction.
President Obama was playing golf, as usual, and did nothing for days. But eventually he sent a S.W.A.T. team. (scratches head…)


Sean Peake says:
May 1, 2010 at 9:15 am
Did anyone get off it or is it all hands lost?
About 120 got to shore, some with injuries. 11 still missing and presumed dead.


I found the answer to my question in the oildrum article link in the next story.
The answer: “At such high pressures, some of the natural gas separated from the oil within the hydrocarbon stream and ignited causing the explosion.”


snork says:
May 1, 2010 at 9:55 am
Something’s wrong with the numbers. You say the rig is capable of operating in up to 10,000 ft, and then in the next paragraph say it was drilling at 18,000 ft.
Difference is depth of water vs. depth of drilling (water plus through the earth–18K ft).

This is the probably the worst offshore disaster since Piper Alpha. You can be damn sure certain folks are going to misuse this accident to push for Cap&Trade and to defeat oil drilling and exploration.


The huge piece of climate legislation poised to be officially introduced
in the U.S. Congress currently includes provisions that would loosen
rules for opening more coastal areas to off-shore drilling.
The drilling industry has been saying, “The technology is settled
and safe.”
for a number of years.
The U.S. opening up more off-shore sites was premised on such
assuances by the drillers and the producers (like British Petroleum)
given to regulators, legislators, environmental action groups, and the
general public.
Oooops !


Mark Levin’s Exclusive Interview with a Survivor from the Oil Rig Explosion…


Mark Levin had a caller on tonight who was actually on the oil rig when it exploded and is now leaking 5,000 barrels day into the Gulf of Mexico. His primary intent for calling was to explain that this was in fact NOT an act of terrorism. He also provided some great insight into how the explosion actually happened.


The rig was capable of operating in up to 8,000′ of water depth. It was capable of drilling a further 30,000′ below the seabed. The rig specs ( taken from the TransOcean website ) appear below. I believe the 21″ diameter, Class H riser employed on the rig is rated to 15,000 PSI.
Some of the leaking fluids are coming from the tangled “riser” pipe ( the “riser” is the pipe leading from the seabed wellhead assembly ( which includes the “Christmas tree” stack and seabed BOPs ). According to the Coast Guard, after the rig sank ( the rig is currently located on the seafloor at some distance from the wellhead ) the riser remained in place and currently ascends some 1,500′ above the sea before bending and returning to the seafloor.
The DEEPWATER HORIZON is a Reading & Bates Falcon RBS8D design semi-submersible drilling unit capable of operating in harsh environments and water depths up to 8,000 ft (upgradeable to 10,000 ft) using 18¾in 15,000 psi BOP and 21in OD marine riser.
Rig Type: 5th Generation Deepwater
Design: Reading & Bates Falcon RBS-8D
Builder: Hyundai Heavy Industries Shipyard, Ulsan, South Korea
Year Built: 2001
Classification ABS
Flag: Marshall Islands
Accommodation: 130 berths
Helideck: Rated for S61-N helicopter
Moonpool: 21 ft x 93 ft
Station Keeping: Dynamically Positioned
Max Drill Depth: 30,000 ft / 9,144 m
Max Water Depth: 8,000 ft / 2,438 m
Operating Conditions: Significant Wave: 29 ft;@ 10.1 sec; Wind: 60 knots; Current: 3.5 knots
Storm Conditions: Significant Wave: 41 ft @ 15 sec; Wind: 103 knots; Current: 3.5 knots
Technical Dimensions
Length: 396 ft (121 m )
Breadth: 256 ft (78 m )
Depth: 136 ft (41 m )
Operating Draft: 76 ft (23 m )
Ocean Transit Draft: 29 ft (9 m )
VDL – Operating 8,816 st 8,000 mt
Liquid Mud: 4,435 bbls 24,900 cu ft 705 cu m
Drill Water: 13,076 bbls 73,415 cu ft 2,078 cu m
Potable Water: 7,456 bbls 41,862 cu ft 1,185 cu m
Fuel Oil: 27,855 bbls 156,392 cu ft 4,426 cu m
Bulk Mud: 13,625 cu ft 386 cu m
Bulk Cement: 8,175 cu ft 231 cu m
Sack Material: 10,000 sacks
Drilling Equipment
Derrick Dreco 242 ft x 48 ft x 48 ft, 2000 kips GNC
Drawworks Hitec active heave compensating drawworks, 6900 hp rated input power continuous, 2 in drilling line
Motion Compensator Hitec ASA Active Heave Compensator, 13.7 ft stroke, 500 st operating, 1000 st locked
Top Drive: Varco TDS-8S, 750 st, 1150 hp with PH-100 pipe handler
Rotary: Varco RST, 60.5in opening, 1000 st
Pipe Handling: 2 x Varco PRS-6i Pipe Packers; Varco AR-3200 Iron Roughneck
Mud Pumps: 4 x Continental Emsco FC-2200, 7500 psi
Shale Shakers: 7 x Brandt LCM-2D CS linear motion / cascading shakers
Desander: 2 x Brandt SRS-3 with 6 x 12in cones
Desilter: Brandt LCM-2D/LMC with 40 x 4in cones over one linear motion shaker, 2400 gpm
Mud Cleaner: See Desilter
BOP: 2 x Cameron Type TL 18¾in 15K double preventers; 1 x Cameron Type TL 18¾in 15K single preventer; 1 x Cameron DWHC 18¾in 15K wellhead connector
LMRP: 2 x Cameron DL 18¾in 10K annular; 1 x Cameron HC 18¾in 10K connector
Diverter: Hydril 60 with 21¼in max bore size, 500 psi WP and 18in flowline and two outlets
Control System: Cameron Multiplex Control System
Riser: Vetco HMF-Classs H 21in OD riser; 90 ft long joints with C&K and booster and hydraulic supply lines
Riser Tensioners: 6 x Hydralift Inline, 50f t stroke, 800 kips each
Guideline Tensioners: N/A
Podline Tensioners: N/A
Choke & Kill: Stewart & Stevenson 3-1/16in, 15K, with 2 x adjustable chokes and 2 x hydraulic power chokes
Cementing: Halliburton (third party equipment)
Main Power: 6 x Wartsila 18V32 rated 9775 hp each, driving 6 x ABB AMG 0900xU10 7000 kW 11,000 volts AC generators
Emergency Power: 1 x Caterpillar 3408 DITA driving 1 x Caterpillar SR4 370 kW 480 volts AC generator
Power Distribution: 8 x ABB Sami-Megastar Thruster Drives, 5.5 MW and 6 x GE Drilling Drive Lineups 600 V 12 MW
Deck Cranes: 2 x Liebherr, 150 ft boom, 80 mt @ 35 ft
Thrusters: 8 x Kamewa rated 7375 hp each, fixed propeller, full 360 deg azimuth
Propulsion: See Thrusters

CRS, Dr.P.H.

I don’t buy into the eco-terrorism/N. Korea torpedo line of BS, this was an old-fashioned oil industry screwup. I’ve seen them far too often.
Excellent article on the technology by Wall Street Journal:'s_Most_Popular
The only good that might come out of this will be further improvements in drilling and platform safety. BP ticks me off, after their Texas City refinery explosion they were supposed to upgrade safety programs worldwide.
Find the problems, fix them, and keep drilling.

R. de Haan

snork says:
May 1, 2010 at 9:55 am
Something’s wrong with the numbers. You say the rig is capable of operating in up to 10,000 ft, and then in the next paragraph say it was drilling at 18,000 ft.

The Transocean Deepwater Horizon is rated for 10,000′ water depths and 30,000′ drilling depths.
The water depth was ~5,000′ and the drilling total depth was 18,360′ (13,360′ below mudline (AKA sea floor). The loss of the rig has resulted in an uncontrolled flow of oil from the collapsed marine riser (up to 5,000 bbls/day). The blow out occurred just after a production liner had been cemented into place and before a cement plug could be set so that the well could be temporarily abandoned (TA’ed). Deepwater discovery wells are often TA’ed and then completed at a later date.
The rig crew tried to activate the BOP’s prior to evacuating. The “deadman switch” failed to activate the BOP’s. ROV’s have been able to access the BOP controls; but the BOP’s won’t activate. All offshore rigs operating in the US OCS have to test their BOP’s at least once every 14 days. The BOP’s were working during the last test – Which would have been withing 2 weeks of the accident.
The well was not drilled in an abnormally pressured section. It was not in a frontier area. The likelihood of such a catastrophic blowout of a US operated drilling rig in the US OCS Gulf of Mexico is infinitesimally small. Since 1964 only 14 rigs have been lost or seriously damaged by blowouts in the US OCS of the Gulf of Mexico. Since 1970 there have only been 2 blowout accidents with fatalities (1970 and 1987, each with 4 fatalities). From January 1980 through January 2008 there were 173 blowouts/well releases from the US GoM OCS. Almost 30,000 wells were drilled in the US Gulf of Mexico OCS over that same period of time (0.87% incident rate). Most of those blowout/well release incidents were minor and were quickly controlled. Only 11 of those blowout incidents resulted in serious damage or the total loss of drilling rigs (0.06% incident rate) and only 1 incident (Zapata Lexington, 1987) resulted in 4 fatalities (0.01% incident rate).
Statistically speaking, the odds of such a catastrophic accident happening to a modern semi-submersible rig like the Transocean Deepawater Horizon, under these operating parameters are less than 1 in 20,000.
The Transocean Deepwater Horizon was a modern (5th generation) semi-submersible drilling rig. The rig was operating well inside of its “envelope” and it was conducting an operation in which a blowout simply should not have been able to occur.
The timing of the disaster is also odd… Less than a month after Pres. Obama announced plans to expand offshore drilling and two days before Earth Day… And without having a clue as to what caused the explosion, Greenie nitwit Lib’s are wailing about how this proves that offshore drilling is too environmentally risky to be allowed off the East Coast…

The explosion came less than a month after President Barack Obama’s decision to open portions of the East Coast to oil and gas exploration, and opponents of the move have seized on the blast as a reason to reverse course.
“The bottom line is that when you drill for oil, there is always a risk that not only puts lives on the line, but a risk that puts miles of coastline and the economy on the line as well,” Sens. Robert Menendez and Frank Lautenberg, both New Jersey Democrats, said in a statement.
The Huff Puff

The Greenies are simply ignoring the incredible drilling and production safety record in the Gulf of Mexico over the last several decades. The volume of oil released by this blowout will be more than the sum total of oil spilled in the last 40 years of offshore drilling and production operations in the US Gulf of Mexico OCS…

Since 1980, OCS operators have produced 4.7 billion barrels (bbl) of oil and spilled only 0.001 percent of this oil, or 1 bbl for every 81,000 bbl produced. In the last 15 years, there have been no spills greater than 1,000 bbl from an OCS platform or drilling rig. The spill risk related to a diesel spill from drilling operations is even less. During the 10-year period (1976-1985) in which data were collected, there were 80 reported diesel spills greater than one barrel associated with drilling activities, compared with 11,944 wells drilled, or a 0.7 percent probability of occurrence. For diesel spills greater than 50 bbls, only 15 spills have occurred, or a 0.1 percent probability.
Natural seepage of oil in the Gulf of Mexico (unrelated to natural gas and oil industry operations) is far more extensive. Researchers have estimated a natural seepage rate of about 120,000 bbl per year from one area (23,000 square kilometers) offshore of Louisiana.

The prime suspect right now seems to be Halliburton because they did the cement work on the liner. The current thinking is that the cement job failed and led to the blowout… But that doesn’t explain the total failure of the BOP’s.
Between the timing, the political opportunism (Obama has sent Energy and Climate Change Czar Carol Browner to the scene) and the shear odds against such a catastrophic accident occurring under these conditions, just doesn’t smell right.
Freak accident and political opportunism? Or deliberate sabotage for political reasons?


As tragic as this is, I still can’t get “Michael Chighton’s “State of Fear” out of my head. Just finished it a week ago. Eerie.


I can’t believe that somebody would sabotage the rig with 130 men on board.My money is on human error.

Fred from Canuckistan

The Oil Sands like pretty good in comparison.
Too bad Obamassiah has banned oil being imported from this safe & reliable energy source

bob paglee

I posted this yesterday on another web site, and even goofy ideas for reducing the flow rate from this tragic disaster should be considered due to the immensity of the damage being caused.
Pity that the blowout preventer didn’t work, but why not now consider ideas to reduce the flow rate? Here’s one that possibly could work by pinching the leaking pipe if its material is of sufficient ductility. Construct a sort of giant multiple c-clamp with several very fine thread members stacked one above the other. Using those submarine robots, over an interval of several feet as far as possible below the point where the pipe is leaking, install the multi-clamp assembly by clamping it over the pipe, then start closing the clamps gradually starting from each end of the clamp assembly until the pipe is completely flattened at or near the middle of the assembly. If the ductility of the pipe’s metal is adequate and the pipe does not fracture from shear or tension as the clamping screws are tightened, possibly the rate of oil leakage could be greatly diminished during the three or months that will be required to drill the relief well. The number of clamping screws and the size of the assembly would depend on the ductility of the pipe to be flattened. It may require some time to experiment, design, construct and test such an assembly, but if not completed in time to cope with this disaster, it could be ready for the next.