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Certified Health & Safety Consultant Canadian Red Cross Canadian Society of Safety Engineering

History of Well Blow-Outs in Alberta and H2S Alive

The history of well blow-out in Alberta is interesting reading, and is the reason for the current H2S Alive Edition 7 training course, as this was the response by industry to these tragedies.

In the 1920s it was a common practice of oil well drilling to burn unwanted gas in a flare pit. Turner Valley is SW of  Calgary and was nicknamed Hells Half Acre. This deposit contained sour gas, and H2S was emitted after separating the liquid hydrocarbons into the atmosphere through tall smoke stacks. The area smelled like rotten eggs.
This disgusting smell was also toxic, even in trace quantities… but it smelled like money to the oil barons of the time.
Canada,’s first blowout was in Ontario in 1862 and showed that big discoveries of oil and gas often came with terrible accidents and exposures to the public.
The Alberta petroleum industry is marked with blowouts that leaked oil and gas through derricks in the drilling process as far back as 1948.  40 kilometers southwest of downtown Edmonton, a geyser of oil soared, propelling high pressures columns of petroleum crude oil. This tossed pieces of machinery into the air and leaked pollutants into the atmosphere, blanketing farmer’s property.  The well which was owned by Atlantic Oil Company, spilled more than a million barrels of oil.  Workers were hired to snuff out fires under boilers that drove the drilling rigs steam-powered engines.  It took 6 months to plug the well. The blowout vented over 10 billion cubic feet of gas into the atmosphere. The blowout provided a lesson in the importance of emergency planning, when the crude caught fire and sent enormous columns of smoke into Southern Edmonton.
Since this time, blowout preventers and safety equipment are tested rigorously during drilling operations.
The public was very upset with the oil companies who choose production over their safety concerns. This caused corporate shares to plummet and drilling bans. There was a rush to create new safety protocols to match the frenzy of drilling in Alberta.  The petroleum and natural gas conservation board began in late 1938 to minimize excessive flaring.  The name changed over time to ERCB, EUB  and then to the current AER – Alberta Energy Regulators.
Our current stricter sour gas drilling regulations where the result of the infamous Lodgepole incident in 1982 near Drayton valley. This was the location of the worst sour gas blowout in Canada     This blowout killed 3 well control specialists and was burning out of control for two months. A comprehensive survey and review of sour gas drilling procedures was initiated. As a result, a national suite of standards on emergency response created new regulations and improvements.
Atlantic Number 3 produced another blowout in Alberta that cased a 3 day fire and energized the push to regulate drilling procedures. Stricter industry operating guidelines were passed at that time. Since 2000, the Board has closed 1264 facilities that didn’t meet proper regulatory requirements.
When gas or oil, loaded with Hydrogen Sulphide Gas, is onsite while drilling, the regulations are strict.  Companies must stop the drilling process to do safety checks prior to drilling into sour zones that are on top of oil formations which likely contain deadly H2S. A field inspector might conduct a thorough rig inspection and see that a test of the shutdown procedures in case of emergency is undertaken.
Not only do the employees need to be able to handle a blowout properly, they are required to obtain a series of safety tickets, such as H2S Alive. There are numerous penalties for lacking proper credentials, such as shutting down a rig.
Allstar Enviro Safety runs weekly classes on hydrogen sulphide gas safety for workers. This 6 – 8 hour program was designed by ENFORM to create a consistent training format for people in the petroleum and related industries that could be exposed to H2S gas.
 This course is the result of safety standards that were came as the result of H2S Releases in Alberta in its history of drilling incidents. While safety training and emergency response procedures are common practice today, Alberta’s history of worker and public protection was very different decades ago.
Besides public protection and avoidance of pollution, the other benefit of H2S Alive training include proper education for our workers who have the right to avoid the toxic, flammable, explosive and corrosive effects of this dangerous nerve gas!

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