Tugboat hits natural gas wellhead, prompting emergency response

A tugboat pushing a barge struck a Texas natural gas wellhead, triggering a petrochemical release that required an emergency recovery effort. The wellhead had no lights.

The “truckable" tugboat Mudd Tug 14 hit the inactive gas wellhead at Sabine Pass in the early hours of Nov. 18, 2008, the U.S. Coast Guard said. Personnel from the Marine Safety Unit in Port Arthur reported that the wellhead pipe was broken off six feet above the waterline and was releasing oil, natural gas, condensate and water.

Mudd Tug 14 was owned by Marine Partners LLC of Bell City, La. Kenny Constance, manager of Marine Partners, said his crew didn’t see the obstruction.
“The wellhead was not marked by any lights," Constance said.

The owner of the well, Ballard Exploration Co. of Houston, said the unit was undergoing repairs at the time.

“The wellhead lights, hand rails and grating were destroyed during Hurricane Ike so there was no place to mount the lights," said Ben Yoesel, operating engineer for Ballard. “We had replaced the guard rails and the grating, but at the time of the accident the lights had not been reinstalled."

The Coast Guard said there were no threats to the public onshore and there was a light sheen in the area. The Coast Guard advised all marine traffic to stay clear. After the collision, 2,400 feet of containment boom was placed around the visible sheen, and the wellhead was secured by Ballard.

The Coast Guard said Ballard hired Garner Environmental, a pollution response contractor, to coordinate the recovery efforts. The company recovered an estimated 840 gallons of oil. A total of 14 boats, one aircraft and 55 response personnel were mobilized.

An overflight by the Jefferson County Sheriff’s Office and the Coast Guard confirmed no shoreline impacts from the hydrocarbons in either Louisiana or Texas, the Coast Guard said.

The Coast Guard Marine Safety Unit Port Arthur, Texas General Land Office, Louisiana Oil Spill Coordinator’s Office, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, and Sabine National Wildlife Refuge participated in the cleanup. Mudd Tug 14 and its tow were able to continue their voyage.

“The tug suffered no damage and there was none to the barge either," Constance said.

Mudd Tug 14 is one of 14 tugs that can be moved over land via a truck and placed in a waterway. Marine Partners built the tugs and owns and operates them. Three of the tugs were built in 2007 and 11 in 2008. Available in 350-hp and 600-hp series, both series are 25 feet, 9 inches long, with a 5.6-foot depth. Beam on the 350-hp series is 13 feet while the 600-hp series has a 16-foot breadth.

Both series are propelled by a pair of John Deere engines.

By Professional Mariner Staff