Oil-rig blast sparks fears of another eco disaster
Published 03/09/2010 | 05:00
AN OIL platform exploded and caught fire yesterday off the Louisiana coast.
There were reports of a mile-long oil slick into the Gulf of Mexico. All 13 crew members were rescued.
US Coast Guard Petty Officer Bill Coklough said the slick -- about 30m wide -- was spotted near the platform, some 320km west of the site of BP's massive spill. Firefighting vessels were battling the flames.
However, there was no confirmation last night on the size of the oil slick.
The company that owns the platform, Houston-based Mariner Energy, did not know what caused the blast, which was reported by a helicopter flying over the area. Seven Coast Guard helicopters, two airplanes and three cutters were dispatched to the scene.
Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal said Mariner officials told him there were seven active production wells on the platform and they were shut down shortly after the fire broke out.
The platform is in about 104m of water and about 160km south of Louisiana's Vermilion Bay. Its location is considered shallow water, much less than the approximately 1,524m depths at which BP's well spewed oil and gas for three months after the April rig explosion.
Responding to any oil spill in shallow water would be much easier than in deep water, where crews depend on remote-operated vehicles access equipment on the sea floor.
A homeland security update obtained said the platform was producing 222,575 litres of oil and 900,000 cubic feet of gas per day. The platform can store 16,000 litres of oil.
White House press secretary Robert Gibbs said the administration has "response assets ready for deployment should we receive reports of pollution in the water".
Crew members were found floating in the water, huddled together in survival outfits called "gumby suits".
"These guys had the presence of mind, used their training to get into those gumby suits before they entered the water," Coast Guard spokesman Chief Petty Officer John Edwards said. The crew was being flown to a hospital in Houma.
Coast Guard Cmdr Cheri Ben-Iesau said one person was injured, but the company said there were no injuries.
A company report said the well was drilled in the third quarter of 2008.
There are about 3,400 platforms operating in the Gulf, according to the American Petroleum Institute. Together they pump about a third of the America's domestic oil, forming the backbone of the country's petroleum industry.
Platforms are usually brought in after wells are already drilled and sealed.
"A production platform is much more stable," said Andy Radford, an API expert on offshore oil drilling.
"On a drilling rig, you're actually drilling the well. You're cutting. You're pumping mud down the hole. You have a lot more activity on a drilling rig."
In contrast, platforms are usually placed atop stable wells where the oil is flowing at a predictable pressure, he said.
A majority of platforms in the Gulf do not require crews on board. Federal authorities have cited Mariner Energy and related entities for 10 accidents in the Gulf of Mexico over the last four years, according to safety records from the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, Regulation and Enforcement.