Blast on gulf oil rig injures 1 worker


An offshore oil rig exploded Thursday in the Gulf of Mexico, injuring at least one worker, the U.S. Coast Guard said.

All 13 people on board the Vermilion Oil Rig 380 have been accounted for, and the one who was injured is being transported to a hospital, Coast Guard Petty Officer Bill Colclough said.

The others were in “immersion suits” in the water awaiting rescue, he said.

The rig is believed to be on fire, Colclough told CNN in a live telephone interview. He said it has not yet been determined whether there is a leak as a result of the explosion, but he noted reports that “the rig was not actively producing” any oil or gas.

Multiple Coast Guard, Navy and civilian vessels are en route to the site of the explosion west of the location of the April 20 blast on the Deepwater Horizon drilling rig that caused a massive oil spill.

Colclough said eight Coast Guard helicopters and at least three cutters were among the craft headed to the site.

The latest blast was reported by a commercial helicopter company about 10:30 a.m. EDT Thursday, the Coast Guard said.

The explosion took place even as senior BP officials were in Washington briefing Michael Bromwich, the head of the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, Regulation and Enforcement, on lessons learned in the protracted effort to plug the blown-out Macondo well drilled by BP. That blowout caused an explosion that killed 11 people on the Deepwater Horizon rig, leading to the largest oil spill in U.S. history.

The Vermilion Oil Rig 380 is owned by Mariner Energy. According to the company’s Web site, “Mariner is among the largest independent oil and gas companies operating in the Gulf of Mexico. At year-end 2009, the company had interests in nearly 350 federal offshore leases with more than 110 of those in development. The company has participated in more than 35 deepwater projects, operating more than half of them.”

Mariner Energy has been exploring since 1996 in water from 1,300 feet to 7,100 feet deep. It effectively doubled the size of its operations in 2006, when it acquired Forest Oil Corp. The company says on its Web site that it is pursuing a two-pronged strategy of exploiting its “legacy assets,” boosting production from older fields to generate cash for new exploration.

In its recent Securities and Exchange filing, the company said that the Interior Department’s moratorium on deep-water drilling in the Gulf of Mexico had affected Mariner’s operations. It said its operations “may be impacted in the future by increased regulatory oversight, which may increase the cost of” Outer Continental Shelf wells “and delay drilling and production therefrom.”

In April, Apache Energy announced an agreement to acquire Mariner Energy, but the transaction has not been completed.

Lt. Commander Chris O’Neil, chief of media relations at the Coast Guard, said preliminary reports indicate that the explosion occurred at a production platform, which had not actually been producing oil for about two months.

O’Neil said the Coast Guard had dispatched two helicopters from an air station south of Houston, three from another air station near New Orleans, and a propeller aircraft from Mobile, Ala., that acts as a flying command center.

O’Neil said he had seen no reports of spilled oil.

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Stuart H. Smith is an attorney based in New Orleans fighting major oil companies and other polluters.
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