Officials Assess Damage From Blast in Gulf of Mexico
By CAMPBELL ROBERTSON and SARAH WHEATON
NEW ORLEANS — An oil platform exploded and caught fire in the Gulf of Mexico on Thursday morning, forcing 13 workers overboard from the rig. Officials were scrambling to see if any oil had seeped into the Gulf.
Coast Guard officials said there was no sign of an oil leak near the damaged platform late Thursday afternoon, despite earlier reports that a sheen had been sighted.
“The boats and aircraft on scene cannot see a sheen,” said Capt. Peter Troedsson, the chief of staff for the Coast Guard’s Eighth District. He could not explain an earlier report of a visible layer of oil — which he said came from one of the response vessels belonging to the platform’s operator, Mariner Energy — but simply said that Coast Guard responders could not spot any signs of oil.
A Mariner official spoke more definitively, rejecting the characterization of “explosion” used by the Coast Guard and others.
“There was no blowout, no explosion, no injuries, no spill,” said Patrick Cassidy, Mariner’s director of investor relations. He said an investigation by the company has begun but so far the company has not determined the cause of the fire, which began just after sunrise and was extinguished in the early afternoon.
Mr. Cassidy said the fire occurred on the upper deck of the platform and in the living quarters at a time when the crew was painting and cleaning the platform. “It doesn’t appear to be related to the wells,” he said, “and it doesn’t appear that there was any release of oil.”
He said automatic shut-off equipment on the platform cut off oil and gas production before the fire occurred and the crew evacuated. But he could not explain why the equipment was activated. “That is what the investigation is going to look into,” he said.
The fire unnerved a region still recovering from the environmental and financial toll of the months-long spill at a BP well this year. . Unlike the Deepwater Horizon rig, Mariner’sproduction platform was positioned in relatively shallow waters — 340 feet deep — and to the west of where a drilling rig leased by BP blew up and sank in April, killing 11 people and touching off an environmental calamity.