Rowan Fighting Out-of-Control Natural Gas Well in Gulf

Workers last night cut in half the flow of natural gas from an out-of-control well being drilled by Rowan Companies Plc (RDC) in the Gulf of Mexico off the coast of Louisiana, the U.S. Coast Guard said.

“Responders still continue to control the flow,” Petty Officer Bill Colclough said today in a phone interview. He didn’t give an estimate on the rate of gas and fluid flowing from the well.

The U.S. Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement, which oversees offshore drilling, is monitoring the situation. Offshore oil and gas drilling work is under closer scrutiny after the blowout of BP Plc’s Macondo well in April 2010 killed 11 workers and set off an 87-day spill that fouled thousands of square miles and shut much of the Gulf to fishing.

There has been no fire, explosion or oil spill, Jonathan Garrett, chief operating officer of EnVen Energy Ventures LLC, the well operator that hired Rowan, said yesterday.

Rowan and EnVen, a closely held producer based in Metairie, Louisiana, evacuated 42 non-essential workers from Rowan’s “Louisiana” rig yesterday, while 37 remain to try to get the well under control.

“It’s blowing gas and formation water,” said Garrett. “We are circulating seawater to try to get it under control. We’re very concerned about a fire and taking all the precautions we can to keep that from happening.”

Three boats are on standby at the shallow-water well site 108 miles (173 kilometers) southwest of Lafayette, Louisiana, in case they’re needed for additional evacuations, Garrett said.

Seventh Well

Rowan’s rig was operating on top of a platform fed by six already-producing wells, Garrett said in a phone interview. When the company lost control of drilling on a seventh well beneath the platform, production on those six existing wells was stopped. The Bureau of Safety confirmed “all production was shut-in and remains shut-in.” Garrett declined to say how much the wells were producing.

All engines on the platform and rig -- potential ignition sources -- were turned off. The flow of gas, water and drilling fluids was diverted overboard, consistent with the emergency plan for the situation, Garrett said. To help prevent fire, seawater is being pumped into and over the flow stream, he said.

“All of the well-control equipment is functioning as designed,” Suzanne Spera, a spokeswoman at Houston-based Rowan, said in a phone interview yesterday.

The companies have called an outside well-control expert to the site, and plan to start pumping heavy drilling mud into the well bore to try to block the flow, Garrett said. There’s also a possibility that the well bore could collapse on itself, stopping the flow.

On July 9, Talos Energy LLC lost control of a well in the Gulf, resulting in a gas leak that took about two days to stop.

Later that month, drilling rig operator Hercules Offshore Inc. fought a blowout and fire at a well it was drilling about 55 miles off the coast of Louisiana. The flow of gas from the well, operated by Walter Oil & Gas Corp., was eventually stopped when the well collapsed, plugging itself with sediment.

To contact the reporters on this story: David Wethe in Houston at dwethe@bloomberg.net; Mark Chediak in San Francisco at mchediak@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Susan Warren at susanwarren@bloomberg.net

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