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Archive for Friday, September 3, 2010

Oil platform catches fire in Gulf; workers OK

September 3, 2010

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— An oil platform that burned off the Louisiana coast Thursday was the second such disaster in the Gulf of Mexico in less than five months. This time, the Coast Guard said there was no leak, and no one was killed.

The Coast Guard initially reported that an oil sheen a mile long and 100 feet wide had begun to spread from the site, about 200 miles west of the source of BP’s massive spill. But hours later, Coast Guard Cmdr. Cheri Ben-Iesau said crews were unable to find any spill.

The company that owns the platform, Houston-based Mariner Energy, did not know what caused the fire. Workers who were pulled from the water told rescuers that there was a blast on board, but Mariner Energy’s Patrick Cassidy said he considered what happened aboard the platform a fire, not an explosion.

“The platform is still intact and it was just a small portion of the platform that appears to be burned,” he said.

Mariner officials said there were seven active production wells on the platform, and they were shut down shortly before the fire broke out.

Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal said the company told him the fire began in 100 barrels of light oil condensate.

The Coast Guard said Mariner Energy reported the oil sheen. In a public statement, the company said an initial flyover did not show any oil.

Photos from the scene showed at least five ships floating near the platform. Three of them were shooting great plumes of water onto the machinery. Light smoke could be seen drifting across the deep blue waters of the gulf.

By late afternoon, the fire on the platform was out.

The platform is in about 340 feet of water and about 100 miles south of Louisiana’s Vermilion Bay. Its location is considered shallow water, much less than the approximately 5,000 feet where BP’s well spewed oil and gas for three months after the April rig explosion that killed 11 workers.

Responding to any oil spill in shallow water would be much easier than in deep water, where crews depend on remote-operated vehicles to access equipment on the sea floor.

A Homeland Security update obtained by The Associated Press said the platform was producing 58,800 gallons of oil and 900,000 cubic feet of gas per day. The platform can store 4,200 gallons 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.”

All 13 of the platform’s crew members were rescued from the water. They were found huddled together in life jackets.

The captain of the boat that rescued the platform crew said his vessel was 25 miles away when it received a distress call Thursday morning from the platform.

The Crystal Clear, a 110-foot boat, was in the Gulf doing routine maintenance work on oil rigs and platforms. When Capt. Dan Shaw arrived at the scene of the blast, the workers were holding hands in the water, where they had been for two hours. They were thirsty and tired.

“We gave them soda and water, anything they wanted to drink,” Shaw said. “They were just glad to be on board with us.”

Shaw said the blast was so sudden that the crew did not have time to get into lifeboats. They did not mention what might have caused the blast.

“They just said there was an explosion, there was a fire,” Shaw said. “It happened very quick.”

Crew members were being flown to a hospital in Houma. The Coast Guard said one person was injured, but the company said there were no injuries. All of them were released by early Thursday evening.

Jindal met with some of the survivors. He would not identify them except to say most were from Louisiana.

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