A trial date has been set in consolidated lawsuits against an oil and gas contractor involved in a fatal well fire and explosion last year.
Attorneys for the families of five men who were killed in the January 2018 Pryor Trust well fire and explosion near Quinton agreed to a trial date in five consolidated wrongful death suits against National Oilwell Varco.
The order schedules the date of the trial to begin on Nov. 1, 2019 at the Pittsburg County Courthouse with the trial estimated to last 10 days.
Court documents show NOV is the last defendant listed in five lawsuits stemming from the fatal 2018 incident after the five families agreed to settlements with Red Mountain Operating, LLC; Red Mountain Energy, LLC; Patterson-UTI Drilling Company, LLC; Patterson-UTI Energy Inc., and other defendants.
Documents state that NOV designed and manufactured the doghouse where the five men took shelter during the incident.
Despite marketing the doghouse as protection from fire and as an escape from hazardous conditions, the lawsuits states that the company admitted the doghouse had no fire protectant properties and “incredibly” not designed as a safe place for rig workers to go.
Investigators from the United States Chemical Safety and Hazard Investigation Board found that the doghouse had two escape routes, but both exits were blocked by flames with the emergency exit hinged in such a way that opened to the fire that “impeded quick evacuation.” A medical examiner’s report states the men died of thermal burn injuries and smoke inhalation.
The lawsuit also claims the well fire and explosion was the result of a mud program engineered by NOV “with unproven and inadequate mud weights” to control the well during drilling operations and that NOV’s on-site “mud-engineer” responsible for 24-hour monitoring was not an engineer and was not present during critical points of the drilling process because he was allegedly sick.
According to the lawsuit, Red Mountain Operating contracted NOV to provide the well with an engineered mud program.
“In fact, according to a recently discovered investigation conducted by NOV, the root cause of the blowout was a result of tripping out of the hole with mud that was not properly weighted to keep a blowout from happening, which was NOV’s responsibility,” the complaint states.
The CSB found during its investigation that when unexpected flaring occurred during the drilling process “RMO and its contracted representatives chose to continue on with the operation with the current (underbalanced) mud weight, continuing to drill for the next 8 hours” and “deliberately performed an underbalanced drilling operation.”
The investigation also states that a weighted pill – a finite volume of fluid used for a special application in the wellbore...for adding hydrostatic pressure to the wellbore – “was not of sufficient volume or density to overbalance the lateral section of the well.”
Lawyers claim that NOV should have been indirectly supervising the rig crew when the pill was placed and that the company did not have anybody present when the pill was made and placed into the well before tripping out.
“During this critical time and when the five men who died needed a mud engineer the most, the NOV mud engineer was asleep,” the lawsuit states.
A company representative for NOV admitted during a deposition that the mud engineer was not able to tell rig workers that the mud weight was not enough “because he was in bed” sick, court documents state.
“Certainly, had NOV supplied two mud engineers working two shifts to be able to properly monitor mud conditions, as they did after this incident, there would have been a mud engineer awake when the men on this well needed a mud engineer the most, the lawsuit states.
Documents show the families are asking NOV be held responsible for the deaths of the five men on causes of negligence, negligence per se, and gross negligence due to NOV failing to train its employees, failing to supervise the drilling operations, failing to furnish safe instrumentalities, and strict liability for ultrahazardous activities.
“As a result of NOV’s gross neglect and malice, plaintiffs seeks exemplary damages against NOV in an amount equal to 25% of National Oilwell Varco’s net worth,” the complaint states.
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