Sun, 12/12/2010, 22:53 GMT+7
Search of “black gold” on Vietnamese land: Penetrating into the earth
“A platform stands firm in the middle of field, which looks like a giant missile launching platform. This is the time of surges of American air force’s attacks.” The elderly in Thai Binh province still keep the memory of a historical exploration drill of Vietnam oil and gas industry.


Acting State President Nguyen Huu Tho (to the left) in one visit to an oil well in Thai Binh – documentation photo.


Drilling platform and radioactive accident


Recalling this special memory, Dr. Dang Cua specializing in oil and gas production told that from 1960, the first drill was implemented to study geographical structure of earth in Khoai Chau, Hung Yen. With drilling machine sponsored by the former Soviet Union, February 14th 1962 was the commencement day of the drilling platform and the completion day on April 15th 1963. Many new puzzles need to be solved such as engineering geography, installation of drilling platform. Nonetheless, the platform reached the depth of 803m, exceeding the initial target of 650m as well as exceeding the capacity of drilling platform. Though oil and gas were not discovered, a lean coal bed and methane were found.


Being a pioneer who made a seismic survey by explosives to prepare for drilling work, Dr. Trung Minh, a geophysicist still remembers his anxious feeling as he was monitoring each meter of the drill to examine the accuracy of previous geographical studies. The drilling workers were distributed in four working shifts to work throughout the day. Lunch was served on spot. Though many years have elapsed, Dr. Minh still keeps his clear memory of excitement as stratigraphic profiles had confirmed accurate and right direction of a fledgling oil and gas industry.


Right after completing drilling well no.1, engineers were ready to prepare for the second drilling well in Trung Chinh commune, Phu Cu, Hung Yen. Drilling work started on April 12th 1964 and ended on March 20th 1965. The estimated drilling depth was 1,200m, a record of Vietnam’s oil and gas industry at that time.


Everything was very convenient at the beginning. Local people were eager for the result. They were willing to bring sweet tomatoes, cassava, chicken, and duck to feast workers who were working all day and night to look for resources. However, as drill bit reached the depth of 1,182.5m, an incident occurred.  The drill bit got stuck at this depth.


Repairing work lasting from June until August 1964 had not been succeeded. After that, another incident occurred when the radioactive source disappeared mystically. Meanwhile, there was a rumour that it was precious “black copper.” The incident had to be reported to higher level immediately. A propaganda campaign of dangerous radioactive materials was waged across adjoining communes. Finally, a radioactive survey team discovered the radioactive source was secretly “returned” on a field near the drilling well.


3,200m down to the “hell”


In the memory of pioneers who were seeking “black gold” for the country, a deep drilling well No.100 in Khuoc village, Phu Chau commune, Dong Hung district, Thai Binh province was a special unforgettable event since this was the first deep drill in Vietnam.


On the morning January 15th 1969, an important meeting was held to present a drilling methodology to representative from Technical Department, General Department of Geology, leaders of oil and gas exploration delegation No.36 and geologists, physic-geologists, drilling engineers, etc. although there had been some drills at the depth of 1,200m, they were still shallow drills. The drill at 3,200m in Thai Binh was considered the first deep drill in Vietnam’s oil and gas industry.


Dr. Dang Cua, who was undertaking deputy team leader of a construction technical team, told that he encountered many serious challenges. “Though the construction design option was selected, there was still a concern by everybody when comparing it with equipment imported from Romania. For the Romanian drilling platform 4LD-150D which is 3,200m deep, somehow, the real capacity was only 50%, including important components such as bottom bits, ventilating tube, specialized chemicals, etc. Then, further import had to ship from the Soviet Union, which took a lot of time.”


When the shipment docked at Hai Phong port, there was another “puzzle” which was the difficulty to transport super weight cargo of 1000 tons from the port to Khuoc village, Thai Binh. All means of transport, road infrastructures were too weak to handle super weight equipment upto 25 tons and 18m drill towers. Total equipment and facilities for this drilling well weigh upto 2,000 tons. So it was an impossible mission for both vehicles and bridge & culverts.


All means of transport, from inland water way to road transport, were mobilized and coordinated to transport equipment, including unloading/loading or hiding in case of air force attack. Many road sections had to opened, field destroyed and houses removed to transport cumbersome equipment. However, the people were willing to devote and eagerly long for the work. Supporting bed is strengthened to bear super weight on soft ground. Thirty two big steel pipes, 299mm thick and 40-45m long were pinned in the earth. The preparation started in 1969, but until September 1970, the platform had been installed with height of 63m in the middle of Thai Binh field. Trenches had to be dug to provide shelter for worker during the time the North was suffering from air attacks.


With support of the former Soviet Union’s experts, the drill start operation on September 23rd 1970 after nearly two years of preparation. Four working shifts were in charge of the work throughout the day, including Sunday. On September 28th 1971, the drill reached depth of 3,000m.


Entire Northern region was watching every meter of the drill in Khuoc village. Workers and engineers had to work in condition of bombing and shortage. Each time when Dr. Cua went to visit his wife in Hanoi, he “stole” several kilograms of rice, a bottle of fish sauce to improve meals for colleagues working on the platform. When his wife discovered the “trick”, she deliberately filled up the rice jar and let her husband “steal”.


In shortage of equipment and experience of deep drill technique, drilling well No.100 in Khuoc village encountered several technical problems. For example, D drilling rod was not capable of the load and had to be suspended to wait for K steel drill imported from the former Soviet Union. The drilling platform is provided with three engines, 700 horsepower per engine, which were overloaded and lack spare parts. In the North at that time, there was only a factory of Ministry of Defence repairing 450 horsepower tank engines.


Recalling memories of a fledgling oil and gas industry of Vietnam at that time, Dr. Cua told that there was one air attack so close to the work. Luckily, there were no injuries and serious damages. It was the most serious when drilling foreman Serdukov (former Soviet Union) had a foot slip from the platform and he died after 10 days in the hospital. He is the first one who died in the history of oil and gas industry of Vietnam.


After four long years searching in the earth, drilling well in Khuoc village was suspended in mid-1972 at depth of 3,303m due to serious escalation of American air attacks. Dismantling and moving the platform took a lot of time and effort in the harsh condition.


“Though we hadn’t found oil and gas in this drilling well, we did not give up. Geographical strata of the Red River Delta were decoded to facilitate oil and gas exploration industry to move forwards.” Dr. Cua told later on that they moved to the sea to look for “black gold” for the country.

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