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Sarita; 1979

This is the Exxon, Sarita Kennedy East No. 1 blowout that occurred in "downtown" Sarita in April of 1979. Sarita is on Highway 77, about five miles south of Riviera, Texas, where the Kings Inn and the best fried shrimp and Remoulade sauce exist on the planet. Sarita then, or now, is not very big. I think the blinking yellow light there on the highway is now is now a damn stop light, an indication, for sure, that Texas has gone to hell in a handbasket.

Many ranch and farm hands working on the Kennedy Ranch use to live in Sarita. The Kennedy takes up a good portion of Kennedy County (240,000 acres) and like the King Ranch (880,000 acres that surrounds it, has several large pastures, or divisions in it with different names. By the 1950's Exxon, had 2,200,ooo acres leased from Corpus Christi down to the river, including all the King, and most of the Kennedy, including the 2,391 acre Chandler Division that included lots in the Sarita township

The community of Sarita was named after Sarita Kennedy East, on the right, an heiress to the Kennedy Ranch, She was an eloquent but tough woman who ran the entire ranches cattle operation for decades. When she passed away eventually most of the Kennedy was given to the Catholic Church and turned into a nature conservancy.

The blowout photograph, above, hung on Dwight Cassells office wall at his home until he passed away a few years ago. It was then given to me by Dwight's family. We were very close, Dwight and I. He taught me a lot about geology. The framed photo had his personal notes about the fire on the back.

Dwight (who served in three military branches, by the way) was the Kingsville District Manager for Exxon in 1979 and often had as many as 35 rigs running under him and his staff; from Kingsville to Raymondville. Dwight remembers, clearly, calling this rig in Sarita on the radio the morning of April 7th to remind them of shallow, over pressured Miocene in the area and to keep the hole full of mud and to stop and circulate during any pipe trips. They didn't and late morning, during a short trip, the well came in and caught fire just about the time everybody got off the floor.

Historically, Humble and Exxon have been very fortunate, should we call it, to never have many of its blowouts recorded. Seldom do you ever find actual photographs of Exxon blowouts and this one is no different. I wish I had more to show you.

Dwight got the dreaded "call" in Kingsville on the morning of the 7th and was on location in less than 30 minutes. He took this photo from the pit side of the rig. The derrick is still standing in this photo, behind the fire wall. The well burned for 3 or 4 hours or so then watered out. Still blowing with water running down the streets of Sarita, the well started to crater. Remarkably the derrick never fell but the entire rig starting sinking straight down at the rate of about 40 feet per day.

400 feet from the nearest home in Sarita, this blowout required the entire community be evacuated to the Holiday Inn in Kingsville for 3 or 4 nights while Exxon, and Dwight, stood around and watched the rig sink. By day 5 the well bridged off, dead. Debris was removed, and the crater was filled in with dirt, the rig still in it, in record Exxon time. An offset well was dug to intercept the interval at 1100 feet and everything was cemented to hell and gone. The community came back home and later got their houses repainted.

Until 1985, the last time I pulled off the highway at Sarita to look, the top 12 feet of the derrick, crown, sheaves, drill line thru the sheaves, even the red, explosion proof warning light, still stuck above ground like somebody had planted a rig derrick for landscaping purposes. It stood straight up, not a half bubble off, kid you not. I never took a photo of that, damn it, but I liked showing it to buddies that would want to get out and go stand around looking at it. Everybody always said I was full of shit when I told them an entire doubles drilling rig, from substructure to pipe wrenches, was buried beneath them.

Somebody built a house in that lot, whacked the top of the derrick off in about 1987 and that was that.

Ms. Sarita's brand.


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