Kuwait on Fire – 25 year anniversary
25 years ago three North American companies were joined by Safety Boss to take on one of the world's largest oilfield disasters in Kuwait at the end of the Gulf War.
Safety Boss was the only Canadian company invited to assist.
The 1991 destruction of Kuwait’s oil fields during the end of the Gulf War required the mobilization of the largest oilfield firefighting and well control operation in history. Ten countries took part in the massive emergency response but it was Canada’s Safety Boss who got more blazing wells under control than any other company.
Safety Boss was responsible for killing 180 of the 732 wells damaged in the 1991 Gulf War.
Some of these oil wells controlled by Safety Boss were among the world’s largest, producing more than 50,000 barrels of crude oil per day.
The Safety Boss crews capped their first well in Kuwait on April 18, 1991. On Nov 6th, less than 8 months later, Safety Boss had the honor of controlling RA 46, the last blazing well in Kuwait. This well was extinguished 22 minutes before the Emir of Kuwait ceremoniously shut in the last damaged well.
Their involvement in the Kuwait fires project began in October 1990, 5 months before the retreating Iraqis army detonated explosives wired to over 700 oil wells. Safety Boss joined with three US companies in devising an emergency response plan in case the Kuwait oil fields were set ablaze.
In late February 1991, the Safety Boss emergency response plan moved into high gear.
Enough equipment to support three full crews was mobilized in Calgary AB. On April 5 the first of two US Air force C5 Galaxies arrived in Calgary to airlift equipment and men to Kuwait City.
The two C5’s carried 2.5 million dollars’ worth of equipment including three full-sized Smokey Series fire trucks, H2S units, office trailers, tool trucks, tons of foam and dry chemicals and enough equipment and spare parts to last a year.
“We specially designed the Smokey series fire trucks…”
Safety Boss is a world leader in applying innovation and technology to oilfield firefighting. The Smokey series mobile firefighting units, developed in Canada by Safety Boss, proved extremely efficient in Kuwait.
“We specially designed the Smokey series fire trucks and they proved to be exceptionally efficient in Kuwait. We were often able to move from one well to another in less than an hour. That paid off in multiple days over the life of the project.” Mike Miller.
For Safety Boss, the Kuwait Gulf War fires project was a once in a lifetime experience.
They also pioneered the use of dry chemicals in fighting major oil field fires in Canada. Dry chemicals are safer than explosives for extinguishing fires and they are also more efficient. “Our high discharge rate dry chemical units proved themselves to be a superior fire control method compared to explosives. We think in the future explosives won’t be used as a fire control agent” Mike Miller.
For Safety Boss, the Kuwait Gulf War fires project was a once in a lifetime experience. Safety Boss crews refined their systems and set a record of performance that will likely never be matched again.
The mobility of Safety Boss’s equipment was a key factor in bringing 180 wells under control in less than 200 days.
Traditional skid mounted pumps in hardline connections can take several hours to set up. With the Smokey fire trucks, Safety Boss crews could move to a well and begin firefighting in 1 hour.
Safety Boss crews were also able to extinguish fires using up to 90% less water than with traditional methods. Surface water storage tanks or water trucks were quickly connected to the Safety Boss fire trucks making the construction of water sumps and pipelines unnecessary. Throughout the entire Kuwait Gulf War operation, Safety Boss’s firefighting and well control techniques proved to be fast, efficient and safe.
The sheer scale of the Kuwait Gulf War fires project was unlike any previous oilfield disaster. Hundreds of blazing wells. Severely damaged wellheads. Lakes of oil.
The air was so black that even headlights couldn’t penetrate more than a few feet. Most of Kuwait’s damaged oil wells were ablaze sending flames hundreds of feet into the air.
The first priority was to extinguish the flames so crews could move in and kill the wells.
Depending on the type of fire, the foam was frequently used in conjunction with dry chemicals. Safety Boss used 5 different types of foam including a new emulsifying type of foam that holds the tremendous promise of the more traditional types. Safety Boss’ mobile fire trucks were a key factor in achieving success. The trucks could pump water directly from water tankers or surface water storage tanks. Flexible hoses were quickly rolled out and monitor shacks were positioned by bulldozers to shelter the front line firefighters.
Before the assault on each well, Safety Boss crews held a safety meeting to make sure everyone knew the details of the plan, what they would do and where they would be positioned. Paramedics were close by in the event of an emergency or in case firefighters were overcome by the extreme heat. Once the assault on the flames began water was poured on to cool the area and extinguish ground fires.
Once the ground had been sufficiently cooled the nozzles were then trained on the source of the flames.
The fireball was driven upwards and snuffed out. Where water alone could not extinguish the flames dry chemicals were used to complete the job.
With the fire out the crude oil gushed into the air raining down on the men and equipment.
More than half the wells in Kuwait were controlled by stinging. Using a crane, crews jammed the stinger into the wellhead and kept it firmly in place while heavy mud was pumped into the well through a kill line. This overcame the natural pressure in the wellbore.
To cut away casing and removed damaged bolts crews used a magnesium lance. In wells where flanges were too damaged to be of use the flange and wellhead were cut away often using high-pressure water cutting tool once the old wellhead was cut away a new blowout preventer was lowered in place by a crane and the well shut-in.
The assault on the final well in the projects, RA 46, span several days.
This very large stubborn blaze was encircled by ground fire. The wellhead was buried under a coat of coke that had built up over the nine months that the well had been burning. The sand was bulldozed into position near the well to reduce the area of ground fire.
Water was sprayed on to cool the coke pile and the oil-soaked ground near the wellhead. Using a track hoe, sheeted in protective steel, crews were able to clear aside the coke piles and break off the damaged wellhead. With the wellhead removed the flames shot straight up into the air.
As Safety Boss continued to use water and foam to cool the area dry chemical sprays were added. The fireball was driven off the wellhead and the flames finally extinguished. The last blazing well in Kuwait was out.
Safety Boss crews along with firefighters from 10 other countries had brought over 700 wells under control in less than 9 months.
Today we continue to offer comprehensive emergency services worldwide. Backed by over 35 years’ experience, we provide onshore and offshore firefighting and well control services.
An innovator in equipment modification and design, we supply highly efficient custom-designed oilfield firefighting equipment. With more than 3 decades of experience working in hydrogen sulfide environments, we provide complete H2S services including training and the provisions of H2S protection equipment.
We are a leader in training oilfield crews for emergency response and firefighting work.
Our extensive experience in both site-specific and large scale emergency response planning services are offered worldwide.
“Safety Boss has been fighting oilfield fires and blowouts for 35 years. We are Canada’s most experienced company. One of only a handful of international companies with the skill and experience to handle even the toughest oilfield emergencies.” Mike Miller