Environmental Geology

, Volume 57, Issue 5, pp 1103–1123 | Cite as

Well blowout rates and consequences in California Oil and Gas District 4 from 1991 to 2005: implications for geological storage of carbon dioxide

  • Preston D. JordanEmail author
  • Sally M. Benson
Original Article


Well blowout rates in oil fields undergoing thermally enhanced recovery (via steam injection) in California Oil and Gas District 4 from 1991 to 2005 were on the order of 1 per 1,000 well construction operations, 1 per 10,000 active wells per year, and 1 per 100,000 shut-in/idle and plugged/abandoned wells per year. This allows some initial inferences about leakage of CO2 via wells, which is considered perhaps the greatest leakage risk for geological storage of CO2. During the study period, 9% of the oil produced in the United States was from District 4, and 59% of this production was via thermally enhanced recovery. There was only one possible blowout from an unknown or poorly located well, despite over a century of well drilling and production activities in the district. The blowout rate declined dramatically during the study period, most likely as a result of increasing experience, improved technology, and/or changes in safety culture. If so, this decline indicates the blowout rate in CO2-storage fields can be significantly minimized both initially and with increasing experience over time. Comparable studies should be conducted in other areas. These studies would be particularly valuable in regions with CO2-enhanced oil recovery (EOR) and natural gas storage.


Geological carbon dioxide storage Thermally enhanced oil recovery Well leakage Well blowout California 



We are grateful to Michael Stettner (Underground Injection Control Manager for DOGGR) for coordinating provision of the blowout data, and answering questions, Dave Mitchell (District 4 office) for supplying the digital blowout data, and Dan Tuttle and Mark Gamache (District 4 office) for answering questions, running queries, and supplying paper blowout record copies. We thank Estella Aguilar and Mary Fuller at the Bakersfield Californian for their patience in comprehending our request, subsequently diligently searching the newspaper’s archives, and providing articles regarding blowouts in District 4. These articles were critical to increasing our confidence in the outcome of this study. We are also grateful to Alfredo Urdaneta (Aera Energy) for answering numerous questions about thermally enhanced production parameter values in general and in District 4. Michael Stettner and Dan Tuttle (DOGGR) kindly reviewed the paper, and Curt Oldenburg and Jens Birkholzer (LBNL) also provided valuable reviews (twice!). Jens’s review in particular led to 1) the incorporation of more data streams in the analysis, and 2) the realization that well-head pressure, more than any other parameter, correlated with blowout rate. Comments from Sean Brennan, Environmental Geology's reviewer, led to the statistical analysis section, which significantly strengthened the paper. David Schlessinger, of Kaiser Permanente, kindly volunteered to advise us on this aspect of the paper. This said, the authors take full responsibility for the data analysis and conclusions.

This work was supported by the Assistant Secretary for Fossil Energy, Office of Coal and Power Systems, through the National Energy Technology Laboratory (NETL) under Department of Energy Contract No. DE-AC02-05CH11231.

Supplementary material

254_2008_1403_MOESM1_ESM.xls (180 kb)
Appendix 1 in MS Excel Format (XLS 181 kb)
254_2008_1403_MOESM2_ESM.txt (43 kb)
Appendix 1 in Text Format (txt 43 kb)
254_2008_1403_MOESM3_ESM.doc (1.4 mb)
Appendix 2 (DOC 1.40 mb)


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag 2008

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Earth Sciences DivisionLawrence Berkeley National LaboratoryBerkeleyUSA
  2. 2.Department of Energy Resources EngineeringStanford UniversityStanfordUSA

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