ASME-Landmark:First Ram-Type Blowout Preventer (BOP)


The ram-type blowout preventer (BOP) allowed the manual closing of a well, saved lives, and prevented surface oil accumulation at drilling sites, quickly becoming an industry standard. In the early days of oilfield operations, there was no way to control the underground pressures encountered during drilling. When an oil or gas reservoir was tapped, wells were allowed to "blow out" until pressure was reduced sufficiently to allow capping. Many inventors attempted to develop a device to control such blowouts. In 1922, oil wildcatter James Smither Abercrombie (1891-1975) and machinist Harry S. Cameron (1872-1928) developed a successful ram-type BOP by using a small number of simple, rugged parts. It was installed on the wellhead, and the rams were closed to seal off the well, allowing full control of the pressure during drilling and production. The original design could withstand pressures up to 3,000 psi, an industry record in 1922. (In comparison, today's BOP can withstand 15,000 psi, working in water depth up to 10,000 feet.)

Once nearly a victim of a disastrous blowout himself, Abercrombie had taken his idea for a ram-type preventer to Cameron's machine shop in Humble, Texas, where they worked out the details, starting with a sketch on the sawdust floor. They filed a patent application on April 14, 1922 (granted January 12, 1926, US Patent no. 1,569,247). A patent improvement (1,498,610) eliminated leakage in the early design. Tests and improvements led to a marketed product in January 1924. See ASME website for more information