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I've written about hundreds of blowouts and fires around the world, and spoken to tens of thousands of people about those wells in speeches, from California to Florida, Canada to Texas; m; this is my all-time favorite, still.

The complexity of this job and how Kinley overcame it, over a three year period... still boggles my mind. Kinley was on bigger wells in his career, none more problematic than this one for groundwater flow around the casing, constant, never-ending drainage of the crater and the different strings of pipe in the well, all parted, crimped, sanded up and stuck preventing the well from being pumped into.

It took six months of milling to finally find something to tie into. 8o feet below groundlevel, in the summer time along the Texas coast plain, out of any wind whatsoever, you cannot fathom how intolerable it was to work on this well in the bottom of the this crater. I use to think I was tough, then I studied the well control business from 1900 to current time and realized I wasn't, not by a long shot.

The next time your on Texas State Highway 77 going south toward Refugio, there is a little town called Greta you will pass thru. In town, if that is what you want to call Greta, the railroad tracks will still be on your right and the crater from this well is partially under the highway you are on. In 1936 the highway and the railroad tracks disappeared into the crater and to get to Refugio one had to drive around the well 4 miles, on a dirt road. All commerce, from Houston to the Rio Grande Valley, was adversely affected by this blowout for several years while Kinley worked on it.

Myron M. Kinley 1898-1978

AT 2:00 AM on the morning of 29 June 1936 the National Oil Company, St. Louis, Brownsville and Mexico Railroad No. 1 well in Refugio County, Texas was drilling ahead at 4,354 feet when an over pressured gas sand was encountered and the well blew out. Several attempts were made by the rig crew to kill the well by pumping mud down the kelly. Those attempts failed and the rig was abandoned. Famed Houston oil well firefighter, H.L. "Pat" Patton, was called to the site on 30 June and he attempted to regain control of the well by replacing a ruptured kelly hose and also pumping down the drill pipe. That too was unsuccessful. By daylight July 2nd blowout flow broached the Texas shoe on the surface casing, set at 241 feet, and the well was lost. The rig collapsed and disappeared into the ensuing crater.

The well was being drilled in the S.L.,B.& M. Railroad right of way, 50 feet from the actual railroad tracks and 100 feet east of Texas Highway 77, 30 miles south of Victoria and 7.5 miles north Refugio. Within days the crater grew to such an extent that both the highway and railroad tracks fell into massive hole, completely closing two vital avenues of South Texas commerce for the next 2 1/2 years. Railroad tracks and chunks of concrete highway can be seen in many photographs of the bottom of the crater.

On July 23, 1936, lightening hit the area during a thunderstorm and the well caught fire. Patton quickly put the fire out and for the next four months pumped water out of the crater around the clock in an attempt to gain access to the top of the 12 1/2 inch OD surface casing. The well by then was making enormous volumes of salt water, estimated to be over 500 barrels per hour. The crater simply could not be pumped out and continued to erode the surrounding area. At many points during the pump-out process the well boiled 60-70 feet above the water line.

Beginning August 8th 1937, the first of two relief wells were drilled, one vertical and one deviated, and tens of thousands of barrels of water, mud and cement were pumped into gas baring zones at 2,660 feet and 4,290 feet, all to no avail. Both relief wells were eventually abandoned and plugged. By then the crater had grown to over 600 feet in width. Texans wishing to drive to and from Houston to Corpus Christi and other parts of S. Texas via Highway 77 were forced to detour a big loop around the massive crater on adjoining pasture land.

The blowout charged shallow water sands in the area and caused water wells to make gas at nearby ranch houses. C.L. "Smokey" Starnes, a toolpusher working on a rig in Greta Field a mile away was reported to have said, "that area was so charged up around that blowout you didn't dare pull a weed out of the ground for fear of getting gas in your face."

By November of 1936, National Oil Co. filed bankruptcy, H.L. Patton was released from the job, and the original Lessor, S.L.,B.& M. Railroad, assumed operations and responsibility. The well continued to blow unabated for another 16 months while attempts were made to shore up the walls of the crater and efforts were made to contain salt water.

S.L.,B.& M. No. 1A Vertical Relief Well Underway With Blowout In the Foreground

In February of 1939 legendary oil well firefighter, Myron. M. Kinley, was contracted by the railroad company and immediately began trying to pump water out of the crater to gain access to the top of the surface casing, that by then had subsided some 61 feet below ground level. Several times the fluid level in the crater was lowered and each time the well subsequently caught fire, believed to be from rig debris and friction ignition around the top of the surface casing. While the crater was being pumped, Kinley made several attempts to lower a funnel-shaped stack over the top of the 12 1/2 inch casing and each attempt failed due to strong gas flow. The well caught fire on five separate occasions over ensuing weeks.

Crater on Fire

Months were spent doing nothing more than pumping water and sand from the crater. Kinley left his crew at Greta to go on other blowouts several times, always to return to South Texas as fast as humanly possible. On two occasions Kinley set massive explosive charges below water level at the base of the flow to remove twisted, tangled parts of the rig from around the well and to clean off the top of mangled 12 1/2 inch casing.

Eventually the water level was lowered in the crater so that access to the surface casing could be gained. Kinley was able to drag away most of the rig debris and then began milling over the collapsed and parted kelly and drill pipe. Milling was done with a rotary table set on a makeshift substructure under a temporary wooden derrick. At several points during the milling operation the well appeared to be bridging off, only to then open up again.

Milling the Top of Drill Pipe

Kinley then made numerous attempts at pumping cement down drill pipe, between the DP and surface casing annulus, driving 36 inch conductor pipe down around the 12 1/2 in. casing, building a coffer dam around the conductor pipe, drilling alongside the exposed surface casing with smaller OD tubing and pumping hundreds of sacks of cement, mixed by hand in the bottom of the crater, all unsuccessful. The well continued to blow out of control the entire time.

Pumping Water Out of the Crater

By August the well began to make more gas and to produce significant volumes of water again, this time fresh water from artesian springs in the area. The crater completely filled up and six weeks were lost attempting to pump it out again. In his daily reports on the well, Mr. A.L. Zimmerman, on behalf of the S.L.,B.& M. Railroad, quoted a very frustrated and weary Mryon Kinley as saying... "I will cap and kill this well if it is the last thing I ever do."

Well Kicks and Begins to Fill the Crater Again

By October, the crater was again dry and access to the top of the surface casing was achieved once again. Kinley made another attempt, this time successful, at cementing around the broached surface casing. Thereafter uncontrolled flow was restricted to the drill pipe and casing annulus. He then was able to rotate & drive 10 inch OD casing over the top of the drill pipe and inside the 12 1/2 surface casing to approximately 310 feet, 8 inch casing inside that and eventually 6 5/8ths inch inside the 8 inch, cementing each string in the process and drilling back out. The well blew water the entire time. A special packer assembly for the inside 6 5/8ths casing was built and snubbed into the hole via production tubing with a sort of block and tackle assembly. The well was then put on diverter and over a period of two days was gradually shut in with 150 PSI SITP. Leaks developed around the 12 1/2 to 10 inch Braden Head assembly but were fixed by welding patches and beefing up the coffer dam with more cement.

Final Killing of the Well

On November 3, 1939, Halliburton rigged up on the well and was able to stage 450 sacks of cement down the production tubing over period of two days. On November 4, 1939, after nine grueling months for Myron Kinley, and 2 1/2 years for the S.L.,B.& M. Railroad, the well was officially declared dead.

Kinley was paid $25,000 dollars for his nine months of work and received a 20 acre mineral lease in Greta Field from S.L.,B.& M. (later to become the Missouri Pacific Railroad) which he then assigned to another company with retained royalty.


On the left is a photo of the great Myron Kinley at Greta, Texas in August of 1939. He is still on crutches from having broken his ankle jumping off a rig floor on blowout near McAllen, Texas in late 1938. It was the the same leg that had been badly mangled in 1937 near Baytown when an explosive canister he was loading prematurely went off killing the man standing next to him. Mr. Kinley walked with a severe limp the rest of his life. In 1945, Myron was working on a blowing well for Gulf Oil in Venezuela when it caught fire. While running from the fire he fell because of his bad leg and was burned badly all along his back. He spent six months in the hospital.

Myron M. Kinley is respectfully known as the "father" of oil well firefighting. He taught and mentored Red Adair, Richard Hatteberg, Boots Hansen and Coots Matthews. Myron Kinley dominated the well control business from 1924 to 1959. Kinley's young protégé after WW II, Red Adair, stayed with Kinley until 1958, then left to form The Red Adair Company. Red took took Coots Matthews with him. Boots Hansen stayed with Kinley for another year, then joined Red and Coots. Red, Boots and Coots stayed together for 20 years, until 1978, when Red fired them both. They then immediately formed Boots and Coots, Inc.

Kinley continued to do well control work on a limited basis until the late 1960's. He passed away in 1978 as an independent oil producer in Oklahoma at the age of 80 years old.


After working for Boots Hansen and Coots Matthews in the 1990's, Mike Shellman began researching and documenting the history of the well control profession and has given presentations about the subject around the country. He acted as a technical advisor to the George H. Bush Presidential Library in College Station and its exhibit on the 1991 Kuwait oil fires. Much of the information about the Greta blowout comes from Mike's archives and was provided by Karl Kinley and Myron Kinley's family, including photos and nine months of daily well reports.

This article by Mike Shellman first appeared on in 2016. It received over 12,000 views in five days.


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