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Explosives Safety

Common Explosive or Highly

Reactive Operations
Pipe Cut-off (chemical, explosive,
Split Shot, Thermite, Collider
String Shots
Gas Generator charges
Any tool or equipment with
an explosive component or highly
reactive chemical such as bromine
Warning and Disclaimer: Perforating charges, string shots, explosive initiators, gas charges for setting downhole tools, gas
propellent tools, chemical cutters, thermite cutters, linear cutters, pipe cutters, and many other tools used in wells contain
high and low explosives or ultra fast reacting chemicals and should only be handled by licensed experts. This module reports
some of the more common information on explosive safety but it is not a training program for handling these tools!

Accidents with Explosives

In entire US industry (mfg, mining, demolition,
construction and oilfield) there are about 50
deaths per year.
In US oilfield there are about 12 serious
accidents per year. 8 deaths in worst year.
In 20 year study of 3 major service providers, there
were 94 incidents, 49 injuries, and 28 deaths.

All preventable.
Explosive Injury Data from Jim Brooks

Perf Gun and Cutter Danger Radius

Some Dangers:

High speed very directional shaped charge pulse (jet traveling at 21,000 ft/sec)
Projectiles and debris supersonic speed, path unpredictable.
Highly reactive and/or hot fluids and debris from cutters
Noxious/Poisonous gasses
Concussive effects of blast

Radius of kill effect similar to hand grenade military spec is roughly 36

m or 118 ft.
Safe Area 150 ft and behind a barricade. Off location if at all possible.
Highest Risk times:

During and after arming a gun (electrical and ballistic),
During pressure testing of a lubricator containing a gun,
Until the gun is well below ground level (about 1000 ft)
Recovery of any misfired (still live) gun,
Hang-fire or delayed fire unpredictable behavior
Fired guns until inspected by service co. that all shots fired normally and no
trapped pressure remains in the gun.

When did the accidents occur?

1980 to 89:
1990 to 94:
1995 to 00

14 injuries
18 injuries
16 injuries

8 fatalities
10 fatalities
9 fatalities

These are just from three major US based

service providers, they do not cover the
independents and do have information from
non US operations.

Causes of Oilfield Accidents with Explosives

Power on Panel
Stray Power
Pinched Explosives
Unknown Problems







Source James Brooks, Schlumberger, Jan 2002

Oilfield Accidents with Explosives

Most accidents are the results of missed runs (ref: Cyril Sumner)
Retrieved guns firing causes (ref: Jim Brooks data)
Power left on panel 56%
Pinched explosives 29%
Unknown 12%

Cause of detonation by cell phone, radio, radar, etc., is a very

remote possibility. If proper resistor caps are used, accidental
detonation by low power stray current is sharply reduced.
However: anything that raises the incidence of missed runs
(failure to fire the device when on target in the well)
significantly raises the possibility of accidents.
In my opinion - one thing that has increased the number
missed runs (from 2% to 10% or more) is the use of radio
safe firing heads.

Stray Power
Radio frequency emissions, ground-to-rig
electrical differential, static, impressed current,
cathode protection, lightning and any other
electrical source that uses the well as a ground.
Procedure measure stray voltage with equipment
isolated from well do not proceed unless
differential is below regulations that set acceptable

Some Other Identified

(Problem?) Electrical Signals
Marine radios on passing ships
Electrical storms (within 5 miles, hearing or sight
whichever is further)
Mobile phones and radios
Electric welders
Thaw machines
Electrical circuitry that may be in contact with the well
(data gathering, cathodic protection, etc.)
Static and differential voltage potential of the well site.
Static is the more important problem.

Some points to consider when retrieving a

perforating gun that failed to fire (missed run)
A general information E-line sequence:
1. Double check panel off and firing key removed.
2. Pull gun up hole, if possible, to a shallow, cooler, safe location (tight
zone) and wait minimum of 1 hour.
3. Pull gun into lubricator, wait minimum of 15 minutes to 1+ hour
depending on downhole temperature. Gun must cool down.
4. Lay lubricator down, disconnect head and remove detonator
(Examine for signs of low order detonation. Care must be taken for
prevention of sudden release of trapped pressure.) Non-experts, DO
NOT GO NEAR THE GUN. Inspection of the gun can occur only
after it is torn down.
5. Some guns may not be re-run. Some explosives develop a
memory for temperature and pressure. Some seals may need to be

These few notes are not a procedure.

Explosive Components
Detonator or cap (primary explosive in
some cases - most dangerous)
Detonating Cord
High explosive TNT, Nitroglycerine , RDX,
Low Explosive gas generators black powder

Radio Silence

Why is it needed?
When is it needed?
When can it end?
What other devices are involved?

Having radio silence is preferable, but offshore

platforms may never be completely free of RF
(radar, near-by fishing boats and ship traffic).

Radio Silence
Why? there is a very remote chance that radio
transmissions will set off a detonator (actually, it is almost
unknown in the Petroleum Industry).
When to use a radio silence policy When using any
detonator that has not been certified as radio safe.
When is it over when the gun is 1000 ft below the
ground level. Re-institute radio silence when gun is pulled
until it has been confirmed to have all fired.
However, be cautious. Radio safe detonators are less
reliable than other detonators on firing and most industry
perforating accidents are from work around missed runs
(guns did not fire). Radio Safe detonators actually
increase the incidence of missed runs.

Special Cases a Live Gun Stuck in

the Wellhead
Explosives can be fired by shearing a live perforating gun, a
chemical or explosive pipe cutter, or any device with a
detonating cord or cap. Shearing or crushing by BOP rams, etc.
Shearing creates high risk of firing gun high-order by pinching.
Perforating gun misfire (fail to fire on bottom) rate is about 2%
for electric line with standard resistor caps (>10% for so-called
"radio safe" firing systems) and 8% for TCP guns (including
partial gun firing) (field study information from Amoco in 1994).
TCP guns don't always fire the whole gun (2% to 5% chance on
longer guns), so check even a spent gun before you shear it.
Experts estimate about 90% to 95% of all perforating gun
accidents involving surface firing occur after a missed (fail-tofire) run.
A live gun recovery plan should be part of the perforating
planning. Most explosive handling companies already have good
ones so check with them.

Live Gun Stuck in the WellheadCauses of Sticking

Perforating guns in smaller sizes (<2.5") have a tendency to swell
at least 10% and/or bow by 5o.
Gun sticking has occurred in the EOT entry guide and well head,
usually on fired gun recovery.
Strip guns can come apart - remove several capsule charges from a well
head after a missed run in the Rocky Mountains.
Stuck a large unfired TCP gun in the wellhead during a recovery of a TCP
gun in Trinidad.

Hammering with a weight bar and a blind box on a on a gun that

is stuck at the bottom of the tail pipe may work in tailpipe, but
contingency plan needed for live gun recovery at well head.
Problem frequency increased when:
if clearance is less than 10% over initial gun OD for guns over 2.5
if clearance is less than 20% over initial gun OD for guns less than 2.5".

The Safety Documents

See the BU or Asset policy on the arming and
running of explosive devices. If they dont have a
policy or defer to the service provider MAKE
Any doubts? Call me (from off well location).
Ive available 24 hours a day for this type of
George E. King
1 281 366 4083 (office),
1 281 851 8095 (Cell),
1 281 693 0371 (home)

Support Documents
Every service provider that deals with explosives
must have a safety document ask to see it and
ask help to understand what needs to be done, who
must do it, and who makes the decisions.
An estimated 70% of the explosive accidents
occur with 30% of the companies involved in
perforating service work (Jim Brooks 2002 data).
Experience and adherence to policy are critical.
A consistent safety program and strict adherence
to that program makes the safety difference.

Arming Sequence
An electrically fired explosive device must
always be electrically armed before being
ballistically armed.
If this sequence is followed, accidental
initiation of the detonator or blasting cap
when the electrical connection is made, will
not cause the rest of the explosive train
(primer cord, shaped charges, cutters and
setting tools) to detonate.

Electrical arming : electrically
connecting the detonator to the E-line.
Ballistic arming : connecting the armed
detonator to the rest of the explosive
system, (primer cord and shaped

Arm the gun (connect the detonator)
just prior to RIH at the jobsite.

Arming (This is for information

only it is not a procedure)


Place cap in safety tube before removing shunt.

Remove shunt after securely closing safety tube cover.
Check cap electrically for insulation and continuity.
Cut one wire lead to desired length at a time. Do not simultaneously cut
both lead wires.
Prepare conductor wire lead and check for sparking.
Splice and insulate conductor wire to one blasting cap lead.
Prepare ground wire lead and splice to remaining cap lead and insulate.
Make a fresh square cut on detonating cord using a sharp blade and a block
of wood for back-up.
Remove cap from tube and insert open end on detonating cord.
Push cap until it seats on cord.
Hold cap and cord firmly together with one hand and double crimp cap
using a standard crimping tool only.
Secure detonator and cap end of gun or arming porthole as required.
Pick up armed gun, carefully, and stab into the lubricator or BOPs. Make
up lubricator to BOP's.

Disarming Unfired Guns

All these and other perforating operations to be carried out
ONLY by the service company.
During recovery, the E-line unit and other well operations must
be in same safe condition as it was when the gun was armed.
Always assume the gun has not detonated properly, misfired,
when recovering it at surface no matter what the indications
Check for shots fired while gun is exiting lubricator. If no shots
have fired, the most dangerous situation, then the blasting cap
must be disarmed as soon as possible. The odds of the gun
having trapped pressure inside are also much higher when it
has not fired.

Recovery and Disarming an

Unfired Perf Gun or Cutter
95% of perforating accidents occur with misfired
(retrieved) guns.
The main problem that causes missed runs is
electrical connection problems.
Can the device be dropped and cemented over
without creating problems later? The gun will
eventually fire low order or the charges will
decompose (e.g., burn) in place.
Absolute fewest people on location recommend
service company experts only.

Recovery and Disarming

Can the detonator be removed before the
gun is pulled? (some TCP and CT devices
provide this opportunity).
During recovery, the pad, E-line and well
must be safed-out (same as running).
Always assume that the gun being pulled is
live, regardless of indications.

Recovery and Disarming

From a safe distance, check for shots fired as gun
is pulled from lubricator.
If no shots fired:
Most dangerous problem suspend operations, let the
gun sit, below ground preferably or out of the way,
until it cools. Check heat with a remote sensor dont
approach gun.
Incidence of trapped gas pressure is also higher (low
order firing or burning of charges)

If shots fired:
Expect trapped pressure (dont assume venting)

Missed Runs - Disarming

Disconnect ballistically, then electrically
(detonators placed in safe tubes) before electrical
Re-Run? If there is any doubt discard the gun.
Flooding do not re-run charges
Seals may have to be replaced
Electrical problem after repair, gun may be able to be
re-run if total cumulative time at temperature for the
particular allows consult the manufacture and on-site
If any type of damage seen, do not re-run

Explosives Problems
Detonators very sensitive and dangerous
High Explosives Risk depends on type of charge
and conditions. Problems include shock load,
pinched explosives, heat, etc.
Propellant - large amounts - have lost holes and
done casing/wellhead damage.
Small Propellant drivers w/perf guns perf minibreakdowns, but can cause damage in some cases.

Two types: high and low explosives
High explosives: generates a shock, shatters
rock if not focused (focused means a shaped
charge). Older examples are TNT and
Nitroglycerine. Newer products are RDX,
HMX, etc. Preferred explosives are usually
very stable.
Low explosives: gas generators pressure up a
localized area quickly. Useful for pulses, etc.

Unusual Problems
Loading tube misalignments
Loading tube failures
Explosions at surface rare usually from human
error. Also watch pressure testing lubricator to
very high pressures with pressure-to-fire switches
or very rapid pressuring of electrically fired guns.
Also be careful of pressuring to the point of
collapsing a gun this can initiate the gun.

Using Explosives
Gas pulse tools useful for breaking up scale
bridges and some harder paraffin blockages. May
create very short (1 meter) fractures.
Shock tools can rubblize a zone (may be good or
bad for the zone, definitely bad for pipe). Useful
for cavity initiation.
Focused explosives perforators and pipe cut-off.

Explosive Problem Areas

Expert application only
Watch pipe loads and forces
Secondary problems with hole collapse, etc.