Seadrill West Atlas Jack Up Caught Fire

After several attempts for securing well that was blowing out for weeks, the fighting to secure the rig and the well was over. Finally, the Seadrill West Altas Jackup ,contracted by PTTEP Australasia, and Montara Wellhead Platform caught fire on 1st November 2009. It’s was so sad news for oilfield.

Read more discussion regarding this topic on drillerboard:

Gas blowing out over the Montara Wellhead Platform and there was oil spill over the sea.

Aerial photo of the Montara offshore oil platform and West Atlas mobile drilling rig. On August 21, 2009, a well on the platform blew out as a new well was being drilled, and both the rig and the platform were imediately evacuated. Oil and gas condensate are spewing uncontrolled into the Timor Sea off Western Australia, and will continue to do so for at least 7-8 weeks until a new rig can be brought into the vicinity to drill a relief well. Photo by Chris Twomey, courtesy of WA Today. (Photo below)

Aerial photo of the Montara offshore oil platform and West Atlas mobile drilling rig. On August 21, 2009, a well on the platform blew out as a new well was being drilled, and both the rig and the platform were imediately evacuated. Oil and gas condensate are spewing uncontrolled into the Timor Sea off Western Australia, and will continue to do so for at least 7-8 weeks until a new rig can be brought into the vicinity to drill a relief well. Photo by Chris Twomey / Australian Greens, courtesy of WA Today. (Photo below)

West Atlas Jack Up

Oil spill from Montara Platform

Aerial photo of oil slicks emanating from the Montara platform in the Timor Sea off Western Australia. Photo courtesy of the Australian Maritime Safety Authority. (Photo below)

West Atlas Jack Up




PTTEP attempted several times to a drill relief well in order to stop leaking. This photo, I got from the board, showed the rig 2 km away attempting to drill to kill the blowing well. Picture: PTTEP (Photo below)


Seadrill West Atlas Jack-up Caught Fire on 1st Nov 2009.
Photo of the Montara oil platform and attached West Atlas jackup drilling rig (left). Out-of-control well on the platform ignited during attempt to pump mud into the well to “kill” it. Photograph by PTTEP. Source (Australian Broadcasting Corporation News): (Photo below)


Montara Oil Platform Fire - November 1, 2009

Montara Oil Platform Fire - November 1, 2009

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How to Predict Formation Pressure Prior to Drilling

Formation pressure can be predicted from 3 information sources prior to drilling as follows;

1. Seismic Data

Seismic is the way to predict formation types by sending sound waves that penetrate into subsurface structure. Then, sound waves reflected back from formation are recorded as raw data. Geologists are able to predict geological structures and potential pressured zoned by interpreting the sound waves. With current 3D seismic modeling, the pressured zones are accurately predicted.

2. Geological Data

Geological information demonstrates condition that possibly causes abnormal pressure zones. The subsurface structures associated with abnormal pressure characteristics are anticlines, charged zones, depleted zones, faults, massive shale and Salt formations.

Anticlines: Anticlines is the geological structure that looks like a dome. Anticlines with cap rock on top are good geological structure because hydrocarbon can possibly trapped below it. While drilling into top structure of anticlines, abnormal pressured zones are expected.

Charged Zones: Charged zones are shallow formations that have pressure connectivity from abnormal pressure zones below. Because of upward movement of reservoir fluid from deeper zones, charged zones are normally abnormal pressure. Charge zones can occur by nature or man-made. Currently, new geophysical methodologies can be applied for find where the charged zones are prior to drilling.

Depleted Zones: Depleted zones are formations that have less pressure than original formation pressure because some formation fluid has been produced. Using historical data in conjunction with geological techniques can determine where the possibly depleted zones are.

Faults: Because each fault block may has different pressure gradient, while drilling across a fault, drilling problem associated with pressure such as well control problem or lost circulation may possibly happen.

Massive Shale: Shale is non permeable formation therefore it restricts movement of formation fluid. When a lot of overburden formation layers are accumulated over massive shale, shale is compacted and reservoir fluid naturally tries to come out from the pore space. However, shale is impermeable and it does not allowed pore fluid to come out therefore formation pressure caused by formation fluid becomes over pressured.

Salt Formations: There are several parts of the world where pure and thick layers of salt are present. Typically, salt formations are laterally and upwards forced causing salt domes. Because salt is impermeable, it does not allow formation fluid pass through it; therefore, formations below a salt formation are normally abnormal pressure.

3. Historical Data

The historical data from adjacent area is good information for prediction formation pressure. Historical information can be obtained from formation pressure, mud logging reports, drilling reports, drilling fluid reports, Logging While Drilling (LWD), Pressure While Drilling (PWD), etc.
Reference book: Well Control Books

Understand About Formation Pressure

Formation pressure is the pressure of fluid contained in pore space of rock and there are 3 categories of the formation pressure which are normal pressure, abnormal pressure and subnormal pressure.

1. Normal Pressure: Normal pressure is the hydrostatic of water column from the surface to the subsurface formation.  It can be simply stated that normal pressure is equal to hydrostatic pressure gradient of water in pore spaces of  formations on each area. The concentration of salt in water affects the normal pressure. Higher salt concentration in water, higher specific gravity of water will be. Therefore, the normal pressure can vary from slightly salt 0.433 psi/ft (8.33 PPG) to highly concentrated salt 0.478 psi/ft (9.2 PPG) based on salt concentration in water. Table 1 demonstrates the average normal pressure gradient based on several areas.

Table 1 - Average Normal Pressure Gradient from Some Areas

Table 1 – Average Normal Pressure Gradient from Some Areas

2. Abnormal Pressure: The abnormal pressure is the pressure greater than the pressure column of water (normal pressure). Generally, the abnormal pressure zones are good reservoir which oil companies are looking for. This kind of pressure has the highest potential leading to a well control problem.

3. Subnormal Pressure: The subnormal pressure is the pressure that is less than normal pressure and it  possibly causes lost circulation problems.

Looking at the drawing below (Figure 1), it demonstrates the comparison of formation pressure when drilling into each pressure regime. At the same True Vertical Depth (TVD), subnormal pressure shows least pressure in comparison to others. However, abnormal pressure gives the highest pressure at the same level of TVD.

Figure 1 - Simplified Formation Pressure Illustration

Figure 1 – Simplified Formation Pressure Illustration


Coleman, S. (2018). Well Control Quiz Online. [online] Well Control Quiz Online – Test Your Well Control Knowledge for Free. Available at: [Accessed 2 Aug. 2018].

Cormack, D. (2007). An introduction to well control calculations for drilling operations. 1st ed. Texas: Springer.

Crumpton, H. (2010). Well Control for Completions and Interventions. 1st ed. Texas: Gulf Publishing.

Grace, R. (2003). Blowout and well control handbook [recurso electrónico]. 1st ed. Paises Bajos: Gulf Professional Pub.

Grace, R. and Cudd, B. (1994). Advanced blowout & well control. 1st ed. Houston: Gulf Publishing Company.

Watson, D., Brittenham, T. and Moore, P. (2003). Advanced well control. 1st ed. Richardson, Tex.: Society of Petroleum Engineers.

Understand Hydrostatic Pressure

In a well, any pressure created by a static column of fluid is called ‘Hydrostatic Pressure’ (HP); at any given True Vertical Depth (TVD). With ‘hydro’ representing water, which exerts pressure, ‘static’ means it has no movement. Any pressure developed by a column of fluid that isn’t moving, therefore, can be considered hydrostatic pressure; fluid in this sense can be either liquid or gas.

The relationship of hydrostatic pressure is shown in the equation below.

HP (Hydrostatic Pressure) = density x g (gravity acceleration) x h (True Vertical Depth, TVD)

In oilfield term, the formula above is modified so that people can use it easily. The formulas are as follows:

HP (Hydrostatic Pressure) = Constant x MW (Mud Weight or Mud Density)  x TVD (True Vertical Depth)

HP (psi)  = 0.052 x MW (ppg) x TVD (ft) ** Most frequent used in the oilfield **

HP (psi) = 0.007 x MW (pcf) x TVD (ft)

HP (kPa) = 0.00981 x MW (kg/m3) x TVD (m)

Depending on which unit is used for calculation, there are several conversion factors such as 0.052, 0.007, 0.00981 for instant as you can see from the equations above.

According to the equations above, Hydrostatic Pressure is not a function of hole geometry. Only mud weight and True Vertical Depth (TVD) affect on Hydrostatic Pressure. For example (a picture below); well A and well B have the same vertical depth. With the same mud density in hole, the bottom hole pressure due to hydrostatic pressure is the same. The only different between Well A and Well B is mud volume.

This concept is basic and very important for many aspects such as well control, balance cementing, u-tube, etc.

You can learn more about hydrostatic pressure calculation from the following article – Hydrostatic Pressure Calculation

Pressure in a well

In a static condition

  • Pressure at any depth = Hydrostatic Pressure (HP) + Surface Pressure (SP)
  • Pressure between 2 points is HP between these points

The diagram below demonstrates the relationship of pressure in a well.

At point 1, Pressure@1 = Surface Pressure (SP) + Hydrostatic Pressure @ 1 (HP1)

At point 1, Pressure@2 = Surface Pressure (SP) + Hydrostatic Pressure@1 (HP1) + Hydrostatic Pressure@2 (HP2)

Ref books: 

Lapeyrouse, N.J., 2002. Formulas and calculations for drilling, production and workover, Boston: Gulf Professional publishing.

Bourgoyne, A.J.T., Chenevert , M.E. & Millheim, K.K., 1986. SPE Textbook Series, Volume 2: Applied Drilling Engineering, Society of Petroleum Engineers.

Mitchell, R.F., Miska, S. & Aadny, B.S., 2011. Fundamentals of drilling engineering, Richardson, TX: Society of Petroleum Engineers.