Despite rig training, job still dangerous

April 26, 2010 10:09:11 AM PDT
The federal government says 35,000 people work offshore in the Gulf every day. Fewer than eight are killed in an average year. If the missing crew is lost, Tuesday night's fire may be the most deadly accident in the Gulf in decades.

Drilling rigs cost oil companies hundreds of thousands of dollars a day, so crews work 24 hours, seven days a week to get to underground oil or gas as fast as they can.

The Transoceanic Deepwater Horizon had a crew of 126 last night. At least 10 of them likely would've been on the rig floor, others likely nearby or other decks below. Crews work 12 hour shifts, so half the crew is typically off duty at any time.

Transocean said their crew had reached final well depth of 18,000 feet and was cementing the well.

Drilling rigs don't actually bring oil or gas to the surface; they just drill the hole down to where the oil or gas is and get ready to bring it up.

Safety systems are designed to keep oil and gas from blowing out. But there's always the potential for trouble.

Safety consultant Charles Huggins trains oil and gas crews to work offshore.

"Their people are well trained and aware of the problems or any issues that there might be out there," Huggins said. "There is always an element of risk to everything that you do."

Initial reports suggest something very sudden and very damaging happened Tuesday night, making that safety training incredibly important.

"One of the first things that happen when I walk in the door -- even myself being in the safety business -- is they sit me down and talk to me about fire exits, where to go and (where) muster stations are," Huggins said.

Safety is so much taken into consideration that no matter which rig you travel to, the first sight you see is the life boats. Most of them carry GPS locating beacons. If the missing crew members were in a lifeboat, the Coast Guard would likely know exactly where.

Transocean says this was likely a blowout. That means gas somehow made it past safety systems, raced up the well at close to the speed of sound, igniting along the way and likely exploding with great force at the surface.

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