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Dave Wilson; Kuwait 1991

Dave Wilson was a wellhead hand for ABB Vetco Grey in Houston; he did three tours in Kuwait in 1991 and took some great photographs. Many of these photographs I showed around the country as part of an exhibit titled, Fire and Smoke: The Kuwait Oil Well Fires and subsequently donated to the George H. Bush Presidential Library in College Station in 1993.

Dave is a great fella and a friend. He is smart enough to have gotten out of the oilfield and is now living large in Virginia, I believe, or somewhere back East where there are no stinking oil wells.

Iraqis' in a hurry to flee Kuwait, but torch as many wells as possible on they're way out, often wrapped explosives above tubing heads; those wells were fairly easy to cap. The wells that were blown below tubing heads were much more difficult, required casing head installations and took lots longer. Adair said once that if the Iraqi's had known what they were doing it would have taken more that 2 years to cap all of Kuwait's well fires, not seven months.

In the photo above we see Wild Well Control hands from Houston attempting to "sting" into production tubing, above the hanger, whereby they can bull head mud down the well and kill it. Stinger kills were fairly successful in Kuwait. Once the well was pumped dead the tubing hanger flange could be replaced, the well capped and shut in.

A large lake of crude oil, Burgan Field

Burgan Field, West of Kuwait City

Red Adair hands in the photo above. When stingers would not work, damaged tubing head flanges had to be unbolted or the bolts hacksawed off. The procedure was to get these nuts (1 1/8 th OD) broken lose, or cut off, put large C-clamps over the top and bottom flange connection, break off remaining nuts and bolts, etc., tie a dozer winch line onto the back of the C-clamp and jerk it off from 60-70 feet away. The flange would get hurled up in the blowout flow and out of the way. Nobody got hair lipped (hurt) that way . A capping stack could then be spun on, or snubbed down to the good WH flange, with good ring gaskets, bolted down and the well shut in.

Ants working their way back up thru oily sand.

Martin Kelly and Wayne Lansford, Boots and Coots, Inc.; Sabriyah Fld. This well is not blowing very hard; they have a crane line wrapped around this tubing head and Wayne is whopping on it to get it to come loose. Martin was good about being neat; note the mats to stand on. Once they got the flanges to sort of break their seal, and the ring gaskets to turn lose, they'll back out of the hole, lift the damaged tubing hanger off and prepare to re-cap to the B section.

Another Dave Wilson photograph of Adair hands using pneumatic hacksaws to knock the bolts off a tubing head. Any sort of open flame or spark from a hammer, or hammer wrench, etc. would be a possible source of ignition. When possible all the tools used around these blowing wells were brass.

The video is from presentations I gave all over the country about the History of Oil Well Firefighting and Blowout Control, from about 1999 to 2008. In this video there is a segment where a large well fire too big to be put out with high volume, high rate water pumps is shot out with explosives; there are several up-close clips of men trying to work around koke buildup on well heads to get flanges un-bolted, a nice segment where a C-clamp is jerked off a well head and the tubing flange gets blow up into the flow, and a couple of brief clips of new capping stacks being "snubbed" down to well heads or new capping stacks getting spun on before they are bolted back up. I've included the video only to help explain some of photographs.

My deepest gratitude to Dave Wilson, whom I always considered a fine photographer. Dave was always in awe of Sabastiao Salgado when he was in Kuwait to photograph in 19991; Dave's work is just as good, I believe. This blog format does not do them justice.

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