What is a Blowout Preventer

A blowout preventer is one of several failsafe mechanical devices to ensure the safety of the crew, machinery and environment.  Drilling for oil offshore still poses a threat to our environment; therefore, every modern oil rig has safety procedures and equipment as a failsafe in the event an accident occurs that could cause an explosion and/or oil spill.  Oil rig blowouts occur when underground pressure is encountered and there is no quick way to displace the pressure.  Natural gas or fluid will force its way to the surface and will cause an overwhelming release of pressure, which may lead to an explosion, fire, loss of life, oil spill and/or damage to the rig.  A blowout preventer, or BOP, is a failsafe valve mechanism to prevent explosions and/or oil spillage.   Rig operators always feel a little safer knowing that in an emergency, the blowout preventer’s giant hydraulic pistons and shears would clamp shut a gushing well.  Unfortunately, this did not happen prior to the recent incident in the Gulf of Mexico.  There was an explosion, the loss of 11 lives and an oil spill.  The investigation of the accident will focus on why there was an explosion and why the BOP did not function properly, which permitted the oil to spill out and spread throughout the Gulf.

Today, blowouts on rigs are rare thanks to safety procedures and special equipment called the blowout preventer, but when accidents do occur they are devastating.  BOP practice drills are similar to fire drills, in that crews are alerted randomly via a combination of hand signals and horn blasts to close the pipe rams on the BOP.  Knowing the correct rams to close is vital because it could severely damage the drill string and create other events.  BOP drills are part of the safety program on all modern drilling rigs so that the team is aware and ready to close the rams at a moment’s notice. 

Normally there is more than one set of BOP controls on the drilling rig so that there is another backup option in the event it is needed.  The BOP or BOP stack is found on all contemporary drilling rigs.  They have been proven to ensure the safety of the crews and the drilling rig by controlling the underground pressure that could reach the surface and cause an explosion, fire or damage to the men and machinery.  There are a series of valves, pressure vessels and lines that are controlled to prevent any injury to men and equipment.  A blow-out preventer is an integral piece of safety equipment that is used on all modern drilling rigs.  When kept in good working condition the BOP can prevent most oil rig accidents from becoming human and environmental tragedies.