Fire is a jarring reminder of Gulf drilling risks


The news broke in the middle of the night: Another major fire at an offshore drilling platform in the Gulf of Mexico, off the coast of Louisiana. Each time this happens, the news brings back painful memories of April 20, 2010, and the shocking explosion at BP’s Deepwater Horizon rig. The catastrophic effect of that tragic explosion and fire has been well documented (including a recent Hollywood movie) — 11 workers killed, and the start of an oil spill that lasted for a weeks and ultimately polluted the Gulf with an astonishing 4 million barrels of crude oil.

The initial reports are that this morning’s fire won’t have that kind of impact. That’s a cause for relief, and yet it should also be an occasion for reflection on the steady expansion of offshore drilling in the Gulf.

Here is the most recent report:

The Coast Guard says a fire that broke out on a platform in the Gulf of Mexico has been extinguished.

Chief Petty Officer Third Class Travis Magee says there are no signs of pollution in the area where the fire broke out early Thursday on a platform owned by Houston-based Renaissance Offshore LLC. No injuries were reported. Magee and Renaissance spokesman Oliver Marsh say four workers were safely evacuated from the oil production platform after the fire broke out about 2:30 a.m. A Coast Guard statement says the fire was extinguished about 6:15 a.m.

The cause of the fire remains under investigation. The platform is about 80 miles south of Grand Isle, Louisiana.

Four people aboard the platform evacuated into the water and were rescued by the crew of the 130-foot Mary Wyatt Milano, a supply vessel, the Coast Guard said. Crew members aboard that boat and three other vessels were battling the blaze.

Clean Gulf, an oil spill response organization, was on its way to the platform early Thursday, the Coast Guard added in its statement. Clean Gulf is a non-profit oil industry cooperative that responds to spills and provides equipment to help clean them up, according to its website.

Needless to say, there are more questions than answers at this stage. We can all breathe a sigh of relief for those four men who escaped what must have been a harrowing experience by leaping into the water, as well as for their friends and families. As far as pollution is concerned, let’s also hope that initial reports are correct. But — as we learned from the initial reports that came from the Deepwater Horizon disaster — this first wave of reports are often wrong.

But even if the final analysis shows no major pollution, in addition to the good news of no serious injuries, today’s news is hardly a vote of confidence for offshore drilling in the Gulf. For the last seven years, those of us who care about the Gulf, and the health and welfare of its wildlife and the millions of people who live along its coastline, have been dreading what a second Deepwater Horizon-type catastrophe could do to this natural treasure. The often contradictory policies of the Obama administration — which steadily expanded offshore leasing for oil exploration before finding religion on the issue in recent months — have only heightened these risks.

What’s more, recent environmental studies have pointed out that the Gulf also routinely endures hundreds of oil-related accidents and spills every year — some just a few gallons but others, such as the notorious Taylor Energy spill, persisting for years. There is only so much this abused body of water, the lifeblood of my native Louisiana and its neighboring states, can truly take. This 2:30 a.m. fire should have served as an early wake-up call.

Read more about this morning’s Gulf of Mexico oil platform fire from the Associated Press:

Learn more about the need for worldwide action on fossil fuels in my new book, Crude Justice: How I Fought Big Oil and Won, and What You Should Know About the New Environmental Attack on America

© Stuart H. Smith, LLC 2017 – All Rights Reserved

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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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