Federal regulators have ordered some offshore operators to suspend Gulf of Mexico (GOM) drilling operations after discovering some apparently faulty bolts were used on equipment to prevent well blowouts.
The Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement (BSEE) issued Safety Alert No. 303 on Jan. 29 after meeting with industry members to discuss initial findings associated with a “pollution incident involving the discharge of synthetic base mud” into the GOM following the “loss of integrity” on a connector.
“During this meeting, a qualified third-party presented preliminary evidence that the stress corrosion cracking caused by hydrogen embrittlement was a contributor to the incident,” the BSEE noted. “It was introduced that zinc electroplating without proper baking,” required under ASTM B633, “was a possible cause of hydrogen embrittlement. During this meeting, BSEE was informed of two other rigs as having H-4 connector bolt failures.”
Late last month BSEE officials said they had received information from the “connector vendor,” identified as the oil and gas unit of General Electric, “which identified rigs as having blowout preventer (BOP) stack connectors that may contain bolts that may no longer be fit for purpose.” GE manufactures bolts to connect BOPs, tubing and other equipment under water for operators worldwide.
After receiving the information from GE, BSEE subsequently sent emails to the “associated operators of the subset of rigs with current well operations in the Gulf of Mexico. The content of the emails notified these operators of the initial findings and gave specific instructions on securing the current well operations” to retrieve the BOP equipment.
“These operators were directed to then suspend operations” until the faulty bolts on the BOP/connector/wellhead connector “could be changed out with bolts that have been certified by an independent third-party to be in compliance with recommended heat treatment practices or the existing bolts have been examined and certified by an independent third-party that they are fit for purpose.”
BSEE also recommended that operators inventory their contracted rigs in the GOM to investigate the bolts on the BOP systems.
Detailed instructions on identifying the affected bolts are found in a safety notice issued by GE Oil and Gas on Jan. 25, “H4 Connector Bolt Inspection Required.”
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