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Home > Alberta's Resource Inventory > Hydrocarbons > Crude Oil > Resource Development > Drilling > Well Control

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Well Control

Blowout at Winalta Well, c.1940.Contrary to the image portrayed in old movies, drillers do their best to avoid uncontrolled releases, known as gushers or blowouts. Blowouts waste valuable resources and often damage the environment. Also, some may release foul-smelling sour gas containing toxic hydrogen sulphide, which would be a major hazard for workers, nearby populations and the environment. Blowouts can be enormously expensive to bring under control. Crews are trained to use blowout preventers and drilling fluid to reduce the frequency and severity of blowouts.

The drill bit may be several kilometres deep by the time high-pressure gas deposits are reached. The weight of the drilling fluid can be increased by adding heavy minerals, such as barite, to the mixture. Drillers adjust the weight so the mud is heavy enough to hold back gas from entering the hole, but not so heavy that the mud will penetrate into the reservoir and damage it.

If the reservoir pressure is higher than the pressure exerted by the mud column, some gas may enter the wellbore. This is known as a kick and must be controlled to prevent a blowout. Kicks are detected by sensitive instruments which monitor the mud flow and composition and the mud tank levels. Drillers control most kicks simply by managing the mud flow and increasing the weight of the mud.

Petroleum Communication Foundation. Our Petroleum Challenge: Exploring Canada's Oil and Gas Industry, Sixth Edition. Calgary: Petroleum Communication Foundation, 1999. With permission from the Centre for Energy.

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