Fire eruption on oil platform in Gulf of Mexico

19 November 2012
By Daniel Smith
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Rescue crew surrounds an oil platform which exploded early this morning in the Gulf of Mexico, off the coast of Louisiana

Rescue crew surrounds an oil platform which exploded early this morning in the Gulf of Mexico, off the coast of Louisiana

After a fire eruption on an oil platform in the Gulf of Mexico on Friday the Coast Guard have been searching for two missing workers.

As of today one body has been found.  

The fire begun while workers were using a torch to cut an oil line, critically injuring at least four workers and resulting in burns over much of their bodies.

This accident comes a day after BP agreed to plead guilty to a raft of charges in the 2010 spill and pay a record $4.5bn in penalties.

This fire accident was similar to the Deepwater Horizon explosion that killed 11 workers which launched one of the nation’s biggest environmental disaster.

However, Friday’s fire was extinguished within hours and did not cause the rig to sink.

The Gulf’s platform is a production deck situated in shallow water, not an exploratory drill looking for oil miles below on the sea floor.

The accident is a vivid reminder of the dangers involved in offshore drilling and the risk it poses to the Gulf of Mexico's ecosystem and shoreline.

A sheen of oil about half a mile long and 200 yards wide was reported on the Gulf surface. 

Officials claimed that this is residual oil on the platform.

Coast guard captain Ed Cubanski said: "It's not going to be an uncontrolled discharge from everything we're getting right now."

Commenting late on Friday, coast guard chief petty officer Bobby Nash said that monitoring continues to show no oil is coming from the well. He said a coast guard cutter would continue their search into the night and that a broader rescue effort would resume over the weekend.

Eleven people were taken by helicopter to area hospitals or for treatment on shore by emergency medical workers. 

As of today, one worker’s body has been found of the two missing. The body was identified as one of the two Filipino workers and were identified by the Louisiana Grand-Isle Shipyard.

Doctors report that two workers are in “serious condition” at Baton Rouge General Medical Centre, while the other two are in “critical condition”. Several other workers were taken to Lady of the Sea General Hospital in Cut Off, Louisiana. None were listed in critical condition, according to a spokeswoman, who wouldn't specify how many patients the hospital was treating.

The production platform owned by Houston-based Black Elk Energy is about 25 miles (40km) south-east of Grand Isle, on the western side of the Mississippi River delta.

The coast guard said 24 people were aboard the platform at the time of the fire.

Cubanski deemed the platform appeared to be structurally sound, stating only about 28 gallons (105 litres) of oil were in the broken line on the platform.

The Deepwater Horizon rig burned for about 36 hours before collapsing and sinking to the Gulf floor after an April 2010 explosion.

The depth of the well blow-out – a mile below the Gulf surface – proved to be a major challenge in bringing the disaster under control.

The Black Elk platform is in 56ft (17m) of water – a depth much easier for engineers to manage if a spill had happened.

A federal official in Washington said a team of environmental enforcement inspectors was flying to the scene.

Spokesman for the Interior Department's Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement, David Smith, has said the team was dispatched from a Gulf Coast base by helicopter moments after the coast guard was notified of the emergency. He stated the team would scan for any evidence of oil spilling and investigate the cause of the explosion.

US Rep. Ed Markey, the top Democrat on the House Natural Resources Committee has said: "This is yet another reminder that our work on oil drilling safety is not complete."

The independent oil and gas company has headquarters in Houston, Texas. The company's website says it holds interests in properties in Texas and Louisiana waters, including 854 wells on 155 platforms.

The company said on its website that "our thoughts and prayers are with those who are impacted". 

The company said it was still collecting information and would issue a statement later.

The spill from BP's Macondo well, about 50 miles (80km) south-east of the mouth of the Mississippi River on the east side of the river delta, dumped millions of gallons of crude oil into the Gulf. It fouled beaches, marshes and rich seafood grounds.

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