Last updated: September 27, 2018

What Does Blowout Mean?

A blowout refers to the uncontrolled release of oil or gas from an oil or gas well.

Blowouts can occur within the ground, above ground, or—in the case of offshore drilling rigs—underwater.

Safeopedia Explains Blowout

All modern oil wells are equipped with pressure-release systems designed to prevent blowouts. Therefore, a blowout requires an oil well’s blowout prevention system to have failed. The most famous recent blowout disaster, the 2010 offshore BP Deepwater Horizon blowout, resulted in 11 fatalities and prompted a review of existing safety standards related to blowout prevention.

Blowouts are a major workplace safety hazard for oil and gas workers and have been called “the most feared occurrence on a drilling rig.” Structural damage to a rig is a serious danger associated with blowouts due to the massive release of pressure they involve; however, the most significant hazard posed by a blowout is actually the fire and explosions that can result should the pressurized release of oil or gas come into contact with an accidental spark or flame. The 11 people killed in the Deepwater Horizon blowout—an underwater blowout—were killed due to the resulting explosion.

The multiple fatalities associated with the Deepwater Horizon blowout are not anomalous to blowout incidents. Blowouts are often catastrophic accidents and commonly result in multiple injuries and fatalities, and those that occur on land can be equally as deadly as those that occur offshore. In 2018, an Oklahoma oil well blowout resulted in an explosion that killed five individuals. The risk of blowouts is often not considered to be a well-managed aspect of workplace safety. The company responsible for the 2018 Oklahoma blowout received a series of OSHA fines totaling more than $900,000 between 2002 and 2012.

Oil rigs are subject to a variety of safety requirements that are designed to prevent blowouts, as well as additional fire safety requirements—such as the mandatory use of fire-retardant clothing—that are designed to mitigate the danger posed by blowout fires if one does occur.


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