How John Wayne (Red Adair) Helped Save the Oil Patch - Africa’s premier report on the oil, gas and energy landscape.

How John Wayne (Red Adair) Helped Save the Oil Patch

By Gerard Kreeft

I’ve done made a deal with the devil. He said he’s going to give me an air-conditioned place when I go down there, if I go there, so I won’t put all the fires out.”

If you think it’s expensive to hire a professional to do the job, wait until you hire an amateur.”

Red Adair Quotes

Hellfighters (1968) is an American adventure film starring John Wayne depicting Red Adair as the worldwide oilfield fighter. The film was for the most part negatively received. Yet to have a film made about yourself is indeed a high compliment.

In the course of his career spanning some 35 years Adair and his company battled more than two thousand land and offshore oil wells, natural gas wells, and similar spectacular fires. During World War II Adair served in a bomb disposal unit of the US Army. After the war he started working in the oil and gas industry for Myron Kinley now viewed as the grandfather of modern well control.

Already in 1931 Kinley traveled to Romania and extinguished the 2-year-old Moreni 160-well which had created a crater of 250 feet across and 65 feet deep. Kinley became an international celebrity.

In 1936 Kinley extinguished a well fire burning in Lake Maracaibo in Venezuela, using another new technique. Myron erected a derrick six hundred feet from the burning well and drilled a slant-hole well that intercepted the burning well’s casing deep beneath the surface. He then pumped drilling mud into the well bore, killing the gas pressure and putting out the fire. This use of directional drilling, then a nearly new procedure, provided a novel and radical solution to wild-well control.

How will well control be remembered by future generations? Certainly well control certification done either by IWCF or the IADC will seem like a distant memory.

Kinley and Adair pioneered the technique of using a V-shaped charge of high explosives to snuff the fire by the blast known as the Munroe effect. Adair had seen it used in bazookas and the atomic bomb. Chemical energy generated by initiation of an explosive is focused on the center of a hollow cavity. The concentrated force generates a jet with high penetration power.

Adair gained global attention in 1962 when he tackled a fire at the Gassi Touil gas field in the Algerian Sahara, nicknamed the Devil’s Cigarette Lighter: a 140 metre pillar of flame that burned from mid-November 1961 until the end of April 1962.

Regarding Africa, the two largest oil producers are Nigeria and Angola of which the latter has never experienced a major oil or gas blowout.  Nigeria has had its fair share of blowouts.  Perhaps the worst in the country was in 1980 when Texaco was drilling the Funiwa-5 development well in the shallow water of River State.  Texaco lost control of the well, resulting in a blowout and a spill of 400,000 barrels of oil which had a devasting impact on the nearby coastal communities.

Fast forward to April 2010: the Deepwater Horizon oil spill involving BP’s Macondo Prospect. The Deepwater Horizon oil spill off the coast of the USA was considered to be the largest marine disaster in the history of the industry. The US federal government estimated the total discharge at 4.9Million barrels. In 2011 a White House commission blamed BP and its partners for a series of cost cutting decisions and an inadequate safety system, but also concluded that the spill resulted from “systemic” root causes and “absent significant reform in both industry practices and government policies.” As of 2018, cleanup costs, charges and penalties had cost BP more than $65Billion.

While the various oil field fires and marine disasters have captured the imagination of Hollywood, such tragedies have further stained the reputation of the oil and gas industry. What has the industry done on the regulatory front?

The Politics of Well Control

The setting up of an international well control system is a story in its own right. In the early 1990s, the various European countries maintained a variety of well control training schools. The International Association of Drilling Contractors (IADC) encouraged and provided key leadership in a bid to provide standardized well control training. In December 1992, the European Well Control Forum was established in The Hague in The Netherlands, as a non-profit organization.

As IADC’s Director of European Operations (1991-1997), part of my mission was to help build consensus among the drilling schools, the drilling contractors and the operators. These meetings were held throughout Europe. Consensus and trust were slowly built over a number of months. The breakthrough came when Shell declared its global support for such a standard. The consent of BP and TOTAL soon followed.  When the European Well Control Forum was founded in 1992 in The Hague, Shell, not surprisingly, delivered the first chairman.

IADC’s reaction was mixed. At first it was surprised and happy that a global well control standard had been reached; but later it felt some reservation and worry that the oil companies now had a dominant say in well control training. Do not forget that oil companies and the drillers have–in good times and in bad—always maintained an adversarial relationship. This is the real reason why IADC has created its own well control programmes.

To illustrate the point more graphically. I remember one meeting at which a key Shell speaker was scheduled to give an opening address and was introduced by Alain Roger, then IADC Chairman. Alain gave an introduction as only Alain could: “We all know what win-win means”…the Shell speaker was ready to nod his agreement…then came Roger’s punch line…”the oil company screws you twice”. The audience became deadly silent; an acknowledgement that the blow had landed.

Since then, the European Well Control Forum has been renamed the International Well Control Forum (IWCF). Their primary objective is to develop and manage well control training, evaluation, and certification programs for the exploration and production sectors of the oil and gas industry.

“IADC’s WellSharp accreditation programme provides comprehensive well control training standards for the global drilling industry, emphasizing rigorous training for every person with well control responsibilities”, IADC says in a statement. “WellSharp provides trainees with in-depth knowledge, well-honed role-specific skills, and greater confidence that they know what to do to prevent and handle well control incidents.”

The question remains: what is the difference between the IADC and IWCF well control training? According to LearnToDrill…” both IADC and IWCF certificates are the same. Both organizations exist to offer accredited Well Control training, and both organizations typically have the same standards.”

“The IWCF, or International Well Control Forum, is based out of Aberdeen, Scotland. The IWCF’s sole focus is well control and well control training. Generally, IWCF training and IWCF certificates are more focused on European, Asian, and Middle Eastern markets.”

The IADC is based out of Houston, Texas.  While it has global reach, and is constantly working to expand this reach, the contractors group is primarily focused on the United States. As a result, for many US-based land drilling contractors, IADC Well Control is used almost exclusively.

Adair gained global attention in 1962 when he tackled a fire at the Gassi Touil gas field in the Algerian Sahara, nicknamed the Devil’s Cigarette Lighter: a 140 metre pillar of flame that burned from mid-November 1961 until the end of April 1962.

…Both IADC certificates and IWCF certificates are used interchangeably in many parts of the world. In the United States, for example, many operators and contractors exclusively accept IWCF certificates. Similarly, IADC Well Control training is accepted in many parts of Europe and Asia.”

Some final remarks

How will well control be remembered by future generations? Certainly well control certification done either by IWCF or the IADC will seem like a distant memory. Perhaps a bedtime story for your grandchildren? A gloating story of Red Adair putting out a desert blaze will certainly gain their attention.  And if that doesn’t draw their fancy simply play that old John Wayne film…one more time.

Gerard Kreeft, BA (Calvin University, Grand Rapids, USA) and MA (Carleton University, Ottawa, Canada), Energy Transition Adviser, was founder and owner of EnergyWise.  He has managed and implemented energy conferences, seminars and university master classes in Alaska, Angola, Brazil, Canada, India, Libya, Kazakhstan, Russia and throughout Europe.  Kreeft has Dutch and Canadian citizenship and resides in the Netherlands.  He writes on a regular basis for Africa Oil + Gas Report and is a guest contributor to IEEFA(Institute for Energy Economics and Financial Analysis) based in Cleveland, Ohio, USA. His book ‘The 10 Commandments of the Energy Transition ‘is on sale at

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