BREAKING: Another Rig Explosion In The Gulf (UPDATED)

UPDATE, 4:40 p.m. – Now the Coast Guard says they can’t actually confirm an oil slick. Go figure. The Coast Guard says they heard there was one from Mariner Energy, but the company said in a statement they didn’t have any evidence there was a slick.

Our sources indicate that whatever oil may have ended up in the water would have come from a container on the platform and not as a result of production. In other words, this accident is nothing like the Deepwater Horizon. It’s not a well blowout, and there’s no danger of having a continual oil leak.

What’s more, this isn’t evidence that the president’s moratorium was a good idea. Vermilion 308-A, as Mariner is calling it, is a production platform – something not covered in the moratorium. The accident had nothing to do with drilling activities per se – it happened as a result of a turnaround being done on the platform, and somehow sparks from welding or sautering apparently came in contact with a pocket of hydrocarbons (most probably natural gas) somewhere.

UPDATE, 2:52 p.m. – The Times-Picayune confirms that contrary to initial reports the platform was, in fact, in production when the fire started. Since it was a low-pressure well and a production well, there was no blowout preventer; this well isn’t likely to blow out.

The crew says they initiated shutin procedures before bailing, but it’s possible they might not have completed them. No indication yet that the slick is growing.

ORIGINAL: Another oil rig explosion has occurred in the Gulf of Mexico, this one well to the west of the Deepwater Horizon site. 

The Coast Guard is responding to a report of a rig on fire “and people in the water” in the Gulf of Mexico south of Vermillion Bay, authorities said.

Petty Officer Casey Ranel told the Times-Picayune the rig is around 80 miles south of Vermillion Bay and that a helicopter earlier today reported that it was in fire “and that there was smoke and there were people in the water.”

Five helicopters, two airplanes and four boats are en route to the rig, Vermilion Rig 380, owned by Mariner Energy, from Coast Guard stations in New Orleans and Houston.

UPDATE: Mariner Energy’s site is here, though it doesn’t have any information on the rig in question in particular.

UPDATE #2: The Coast Guard says all of the crew is accounted for.  CNN reports one is injured.

UPDATE #3: Details from Fox News, via a Coast Guard commander they’ve got on the phone…

  • There were 13 people on board the rig and they’re pulling all of them out of the water now.
  • No word on whether the rig is still burning.
  • No indication of oil in the water.
  • It’s Vermilion Rig 390, not 380, per the Coast Guard official.

UPDATE #4: CNN had Coast Guard petty officer Bill Colclough on, and he said the rig was not actively producing at this point. And the Times-Picayune says Mariner Energy records indicate the rig sits in 450 feet of water in South Timbalier Block 316, though the Picayune says it’s Rig 360. Might be some confusion there.

UPDATE #5: WAFB now says it’s Vermilion Rig 398, not 380, 390 or 360. Who knows?

UPDATE #6: CNN says there are reports the rig is still burning.

UPDATE #7: While this doesn’t look like it’s going to be anything like the Deepwater Horizon, it’s still REALLY bad.

First, Apache has a deal pending to buy Mariner, and this likely will kill the deal.

Second, there’s a mile-long oil slick emanating from the rig. That in and of itself isn’t a big deal; it’s a small slick and there isn’t that much more oil coming. The rig produced only about 1,400 barrels of oil a day in August; it’s one of those low-producing shallow-water rigs, not a billion-dollar monster like Deepwater Horizon was.

But the political implications of another spill just four months after the BP disaster couldn’t be worse. This will cement the offshore moratorium in place, and when that becomes apparent the rigs in the Gulf now which have been waiting for a disposition on the moratorium are going to bail for calmer waters in Egypt, Angola, Brazil or wherever.

It’s almost like a page out of the terrorist handbook which says “stage an incident, and then when the scene becomes crowded with onlookers and first responders, stage another on that same site for maximum effect.” We’re not saying this was anything but an accident, but it’s ironic if not suspicious.

UPDATE #8: Now, according to Gov. Jindal as reported by Reuters, the well has been shut.

UPDATE #9: WWL-TV has more

  • It’s Vermilion 308-A. It’s a platform, not a rig. Seven production wells work off the platform, there was construction being done on one of the wells.
  • The crew managed to initiate emergency shutin procedures before evacuating into the drink in their Gumby suits (also called immersion suits).
  • The Coast Guard got the call on this one at 9:19 a.m., shortly after the explosion.
  • The fire, as of about 1 p.m., was still burning – but it had been contained.
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