Fire and Explosion Precautions During Drilling

Published On: January 1, 2016By Categories: Safety, Safety Matters

It’s important your safety program addresses the hazards of fire at a jobsite.

By Gary Ganson, CIH, CSP

Drilling crews can become complacent when the majority of the time they leave the job site without incident.

The Earth’s crust contains all the hydrocarbons we know as fossil fuels which are used in distilling a variety of combustible and flammable products. In addition, hydrocarbons composed of smaller chained molecules are present in the form of fuel sources that come almost directly from the ground, such as methane and natural gas.

It is important water well drilling crews remember these facts above and stay alert at all times. One of the potential risks whenever a drill rig penetrates the ground includes contact with pockets of gas that can be under pressure and released once the bit comes into contact with the gas.

Moreover, if the source is in the liquid phase, such as crude oil, the release can still pose a significant fire and explosion hazard. These risks can be controlled when the significance of the hazard is understood.

So you’re aware then what the drill might come into contact with in the soils and substrates underground. Still, there are a number of other potential sources of ignition for flammable gases and liquids at the drill site.

Companies must develop a general ignition safety program in their health and safety plan that could preempt potential hazards of fire and explosion.

Other Potential Fire and Explosion Hazards

Sources of ignition and explosions of flammable gases or
vapors include:

  • Internal-combustion engine sparks
  • Open flames from any source
  • Smoking
  • Welding operations
  • Electric power tools
  • Two-way radios
  • Vehicles with catalytic converters with engines left running
  • Portable generators.

Remaining alert to the potential for a fire or explosion can mean avoiding the loss of a rig and even the loss of a life. Prevention strategies include always being on the lookout for ignition sources and fuel sources.

If welding, grinding, or other hot work is necessary on the jobsite, make sure to have a hot work permit. This practice can prevent a major fire.

Evaluating what equipment is brought to the site containing flammable or combustible products, and where and how they are stored, will also contribute to a safe work site. Proper storage and maintenance of equipment containing oxygen and acetylene should be part of the safety program, and include best practices on storage locations, distance from the wellhead, and proper maintenance and inspections.

Safety and Hazard Analysis

One of the best tools for any drilling company is a good job safety analysis (JSA) or job hazard assessment (JHA) program. Both are the same type of safety prevention practice.

They each include as a first step conducting a basic job step determination—for example, writing down the basic steps in the process of setting up the rig, drilling, and breaking down the rig.

Once you have developed the job steps, the second task is to evaluate each step for potential hazards. This includes everything from tripping and ergonomic hazards to the potential for a fire or explosion.

The third step is then to develop specific practices established as procedures to either minimize the hazard or, if possible, eliminate the hazard altogether. The importance of this task is a critical process every drilling company should

One more critical piece of having a JSA or JHA is conveying the information you’ve developed to the drilling crew and making sure they are fully educated on the hazards and safety processes. Training should be an ongoing initiative, regardless of redundancy, and should be  reinforced every day on the job.

The importance of being prepared for all those unforeseen events that can lead to a disaster should be a top priority of the drilling crew. The possibility of a fire and explosion on a drilling site is always there, no matter whether the source of fuel is from the ground or from the equipment. Being ever vigilant for open sources of fuels and ignition will prevent the unfortunate from happening.

Other Safety Solutions to Remember

  • Be prepared to monitor gases from borings
  • Provide spark arrestors for all internal combustion engines
  • Keep all spark-producing equipment well away from potential fuel sources
  • Don’t allow vehicles to idle in the vicinity of fuels or dry grass
  • Keep all open flames away from the boring and other fuel sources
  • Don’t allow smoking while drilling
  • Have a hot work permit procedure and enforce use
  • Store all cylinders upright and secured
  • Have well-maintained fire extinguishers at drilling sites
  • Use a fire watch (additional person) when doing hot work.

The tools and tasks mentioned here can be easily developed and implemented. Make sure your company does so.

To help meet your professional needs, this column covers skills and competencies found in DACUM charts for drillers and pump installers. DO refers to the drilling chart and PI represents the pumps chart. The letter and number immediately following is the skill on the chart covered by the column. This column covers:

DOA-4, 9; DOC-1, 3, 6, 9; DOD-4, 5, 6, 8; DOK-9, DOL-2, 3

More information on DACUM and the charts are available at

Additional Resources
Here are some more resources that can be accessed to help in
the education and development process.

  • 29 CFR 1910.106, Flammable and Combustible Liquids.
    OSHA Standard.
  • 29 CFR 1910 Subpart S, Electrical. OSHA Standard.
  • Accident Prevention Reference Guide. International Association of Drilling Contractors.
  • Model Environmental Health and Safety (EHS) Manual, National Ground Water Association.
  • RP 54, Recommended Practice for Occupational Safety for Oil and Gas Well Drilling and Servicing Operations, Wireline Service, American Petroleum Institute.
  • Safety Meetings for the Groundwater Industry, National Ground Water Association..

Gary Ganson, CIH, CSP, is national practice leader/director of industrial hygiene services for Nova Consulting Group Inc. in Kansas City, Missouri.


Read the Current Issue

you might also like