BY GREG FLAKUS FOR VOA NEWS FROM HOUSTON, TEXAS – An oil rig off the coast of Louisiana caught fire Thursday, forcing its 13 crew members to jump into the Gulf of Mexico and await rescue. There might be oil leaking from the rig, but it is not expected to be a major spill of the type that occurred when the Deepwater Horizon, a BP-leased rig farther to the east, exploded in April, sparking the worst oil spill in U.S. history.
The U.S. Coast Guard says there is a sheen of oil on the water near the site of the rig fire. But the company that owns the platform, Houston-based Mariner Energy, says it was not in production at the time. The rig is about 145 kilometers from Vermillion Bay, Louisiana in about 100-meter-deep water.
Because it is in relatively shallow water, any leak that has developed could be handled quickly by crews sent to the scene to do repairs. The Deepwater Horizon accident occurred in 1,500-meter-deep water where no human divers could venture. It took three months of work with robotic devices to cap that well after it had spewed an estimated five-million barrels of crude oil into the Gulf.
Coast Guard spokesman Petty Officer Second Class Bill Colclough says all 13 crew members from the rig are safe and accounted for.
“An offshore supply vessel by the name of Crystal Clear deployed to the scene of the oil platform. They transferred those 13 on board for a safe platform for Coast Guard rescue crews to then transport them to Terrebonne General Medical Center [in Houma, Louisiana],” he said.
Colclough says several Coast Guard ships and planes are in the area or on their way to the scene from stations in New Orleans, Louisiana; Houston, Texas and Mobile, Alabama. He says Mariner Energy has three vessels at the site to put out the fire and assess the damage. The company says the rig served as a junction for seven production sites in the area, but that there was no production in progress on the rig at the time of the accident.
Company spokesmen say the rig was damaged by Hurricane Ike two years ago and had undergone repairs before being brought back into operation earlier this year. Mariner Energy has 350 federal leases in the Gulf of Mexico with 110 in development. Apache Energy is in the process of buying the company, but that transaction has not yet been completed.