Workers aim to kill Gulf well

Work is underway to permanently kill off a well that leaked gas and condensate into the Gulf of Mexico for four days.

After Energy Resource Technology temporarily plugged the well with drilling mud on July 11, the company began preparations to install a metal plug and pump cement into the site.

Some of that work began midday Saturday, as a bridge plug was set into the 40-year-old well and tested. On Sunday, an oil well packer, meant to seal the space around the pipe and the well hole, was installed.

Workers may begin pumping cement into the well as soon as Monday evening.

The CEO of Houston-based Talos Energy, which purchased Energy Resource Technology earlier this year, said the incident “has been successfully resolved without injury and with a very limited release of hydrocarbons.”

Federal regulators at the Interior Department’s Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement confirmed a bridge plug has been temporarily set to isolate the lower part of the well. But the bureau said in a statement that “more work is needed to permanently plug and abandon the well.”

Regulators also have promised a full investigation — and on Monday pledged to evaluate Energy Resource Technology’s overall safety performance in light of the latest episode and following a fatal accident at another ERT facility in the Gulf.

“BSEE’s review and analysis of the incident will include a meeting with ERT to discuss their preparation and operational procedures associated with this incident as well as their overall performance as an operator on the outer continental shelf,” the bureau said.

The safety bureau previously faulted ERT for failing to maintain equipment in a safe condition, after a worker died in a crane accident at one of the company’s offshore production facilities in August 2011.

Severely corroded, four-year-old boom hoist wire rope contributed to that fatal accident, according to BSEE records. Critical corrosion and lubrication issues had gone undetected during a contractor’s annual inspection six months before the incident, and workers on the site failed to conduct an inspection before the crane was used.

Talos Energy CEO Tim Duncan said the company welcomed BSEE’s review.

“We have an experienced operations group that takes great pride in their work and holds themselves to a very high standard, and part of that standard is constantly evaluating our procedures, processes and results,” he said in a statement.

In the most recent incident, problems began on July 7, when workers briefly lost control of the ERT well as they prepared to permanently plug and abandon it. Although the well was briefly brought back under control, the next day it began discharging a briny mix of gas, light condensate and salt water.

Two other wells at the same production platform were shut in and five workers evacuated the facility.

Talos’ Duncan estimated that during the four days the well was leaking, fewer than 10 barrels of light condensate may have been discharged. The well last produced gas commercially more than a decade ago.

“Although the discharge levels were low, we take any release of hydrocarbons into the environment very seriously, and, in an abundance of caution, decided to take aggressive action,” Duncan said in a statement. “We are proud of the swift response that we initiated, including our close coordination with BSEE and the Coast Guard, and we greatly appreciated the assistance and support we received from them.”

Although the first gush of hydrocarbons was enough to produce a four-mile long light rainbow sheen, it dissipated by the time regulators flew over the site on Saturday. Unlike spilled oil, which generally must be contained and sopped up to prevent environmental damage, leaked gas evaporates naturally over time.

Duncan noted that Talos “is proactively removing long-inactive wells that it owns as part of its purchase of ERT in February 2013.” One of those targets, the well that leaked last week is located in 146 feet of water in Ship Shoal block 225, about 74 miles from Port Fourchon, La.

Although Southern Production and Refining Co. first drilled the well in 1973, SONAT Exploration Co. operated it for years after. Energy Resource Technology’s working interest partners in the well include Noble Energy Inc. and Fidelity Exploration and Production Co.