Nearly 5 years after BP, a new lethal rig explosion in the Gulf


It happened again. Just like so many of us predicted, and so many of us feared. Another oil rig has blown up in a massive fireball in the Gulf of Mexico, with lethal consequences for the workers at an offshore oil facility. This explosion — which comes in the midst of an ongoing debate on the after-effects of the 2010 BP Deepwater Horizon catastrophe — took place off the coast of Mexico:

At least four people died after a fire broke out on an oil processing platform in the Gulf of Mexico early on Wednesday, leading to the evacuation of 302 workers, Mexican state-run oil company Pemex said.

The fire, which burned throughout the day, erupted overnight on the Abkatun Permanente platform in the oil-rich Bay of Campeche. Forty-five people were treated for injuries and 16 of them were hospitalized, two with serious injuries, Pemex said.

Eight firefighting boats were brought in to battle the flames, Pemex said, noting that one of the fatalities was from the state-run giant and another was a contractor for Mexican oil services firm Cotemar. Two others have yet to be identified.

Videos posted on Twitter showed the offshore platform engulfed in flames, lighting up the night sky, as rescue workers looked on from nearby ships.

The fire broke out in the dehydration and pumping area of the platform, and it was not yet clear what caused it, Pemex said. There was no oil spill, it said.

We’ll have to see about that last part. If you recall the BP disaster — which killed 11 workers — back in 2010, the British oil giant was initially reassuring the public that either no crude or very little was leaking, even as the early stages of the worst oil spill in U.S. history was well underway. One hopeful development — if anything related to a blast that killed four workers can be described as hopeful — is that the rig is said to be in shallow water, and not the difficult one-mile of open water scenario facing BP’s engineers at the Deepwater Horizon.

But there is cause for concern. The site of today’s explosion was not far from the location of the world’s second-worst accidental oil spill, which took place in the Campeche waters in 1979 and took officials one long year to finally cap. In that case, many fisherman said the devastating environmental impact of that so-called Ixtoc spill some 36 years ago destroyed their business for good. How much more pain can the Gulf of Mexico — one of the world’s great natural resources — endure?

We may find out, sooner rather than later. As I’ve stressed here in recent months, despite that fact that there’s been no serious effort by either the oil industry or the U.S. government to absorb and apply the lessons of the 2010 BP accident, offshore drilling in the Gulf of Mexico has pushed forward at a record pace. Even the recent, dizzying drop in oil prices has not slowed exploration or the awarding of government leases and permits . And with pressures to cut corners and save a few bucks — a factor in the Deepwater Horizon incident — even greater now than they were five years ago, more accidents like the one today are not just a possibility. They are a certainty.

Read more about our efforts to expose the truth about the Deepwater Horizon spill in my book, Crude Justice: How I Fought Big Oil and Won, and What You Should Know About the New Environmental Attack on America:

Check out more about yesterday’s Pemex tragedy off Mexico here:

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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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