As the Times-Picayune’s David Hammer writes this morning, yesterday’s accident aboard Mariner Energy’s Vermilion 380 platform in the Gulf, which resulted in a fire it took several hours to put out, is being put forth as further evidence the offshore oil industry is out of control and needs to be curtailed if not ended.
And as Hammer notes, it takes some rather severe contortions to create equivalency between the Vermilion 380 accident and BP’s Deepwater Horizon nightmare. Contortions, it must be said, which only someone with a left-wing agenda would wish to practice.
Hammer’s piece notes that on the same day the Vermilion 380 fire started, Democrat congressmen and leftist environmental groups blasted out press releases assaulting the oil industry…
Still, that didn’t stop environmental groups and members of Congress from saying Thursday’s fire made their case for extending the drilling ban. Almost immediately, U.S. Rep. Raul Grijalva, D-Ariz., and the Sierra Club released statements calling for the moratorium to continue based on what Grijalva said was Thursday’s “starkest possible reminder that oil rigs in this country are not safe.”
But Grijalva, who last month demanded that oil companies waste money by removing abandoned rigs from the Gulf (an idea which is as much a shot at recreational fishermen as it is at the oil patch), went further than just the snippet Hammer used.
The money part of Grijalva’s release reads as follows:
The newly announced spill, Grijalva said, “is the starkest possible reminder that oil rigs in this country are not safe, have not been safe for years, and are not currently being inspected for safety. This is not a situation we could afford to ignore before the Deepwater catastrophe, let alone today. It seems that everyone is content to let another oil rig explode every few months rather than taking concrete steps to clean up the industry.”
Vermilion 380, owned by Mariner Energy based in Houston, had a 13-person crew. All have been accounted for, and one is reportedly injured. According to the company’s Web site, “About 85% of the company’s production comes from offshore, with a growing share of that coming from deepwater developments[.]”
Improving the industry’s safety record “can’t get bogged down in political quibbling, because it’s not a political issue,” Grijalva said. “People are dying, getting injured, losing their livelihoods and filling the Gulf with spilled oil while we continue to do nothing.”
Of course, Grijalva ended up with huevo on his face later in the afternoon when no one could find spilled oil in the vicinity of the Mariner platform – an indication that for all his bluster and rushing to conclusions he had little idea what the hell he was talking about.
Let’s remember what actually happened yesterday.
Vermilion 380 is a production platform, not a drilling rig. Ignoramuses like Grijalva might not recognize the difference, but for people of average intelligence it’s really not that complicated. Drilling rigs look for oil by means of making holes in the ground or seabed. When they find oil, production platforms then show up and gather what comes up and process it for transport to refineries. Those are two very different missions, and they involve different levels of risk.
Vermilion 380 was also anchored in shallow water. As such, it has an apples-and-oranges relationship to the moratorium Grijalva touts – which is supposed to govern deepwater floating exploration rigs.
The accident yesterday involved construction work on the Vermilion 380 platform – namely, welding, or sandblasting to knock off some rust. Assumedly a spark from that activity must have come in contact with a pocket of hydrocarbons, like natural gas in all likelihood. It’s been 15-20 years since something like this happened, but it’s not outside the realm of normal risk aboard an oil platform.
This is nothing like Deepwater Horizon, which was a poorly-designed well on a problematic, yet highly prolific, prospect in which a cascade of marginal decisions culminated in disaster.
The moratorium didn’t affect Vermilion 380, and it wouldn’t affect it. Vermilion 380 was an accident. No one died, and no environmental damage was done. As the “starkest possible reminder” that the oil industry is unsafe and the moratorium should continue, it’s not very persuasive – unless, of course, you’re already persuaded that destroying Gulf Coast jobs is a smart thing to do.