An oil platform in the Gulf of Mexico off the Louisiana coast exploded on Friday, leaving two people missing and badly injuring several others, recalling the horror of the 2010 Deepwater Horizon disaster.
The fire ignited when workers were welding a pipe on the deck of the shallow-water platform operated by Houston-based Black Elk Energy. Eleven workers were injured, including four who suffered severe burns.
The fire was extinguished and the US Coast Guard said there appeared to be little risk of a major oil spill like the one that followed the rupture of BP PLC’s 1.6km-deep Macondo well in 2010.
Unlike Macondo, no oil was flowing up to the Black Elk platform at the time of the explosion, because production was shut off before the fire. Black Elk told authorities that any spill could be as little as 106 liters. When the platform caught fire, 22 workers were aboard, the Coast Guard said.
The Coast Guard said 11 people were airlifted to hospitals, while nine others were evacuated to other nearby energy facilities. Search and rescue helicopters were scouring the area, about 27km south of Grand Isle, Louisiana.
No fatalities have been confirmed, but two workers were missing. The 11 hurt included four who suffered burns and were in critical condition at Louisiana’s West Jefferson Medical Center, a hospital spokeswoman said.
The incident happened a day after oil giant BP reached an agreement to pay record penalties of US$4.5 billion for its role in the 2010 Macondo disaster, which killed 11 workers and spewed 4.9 million barrels of oil into the Gulf.
Black Elk’s platform sits in 17m of water and was not producing oil, unlike the rig involved in the BP disaster, which had been drilling in waters nearly 1.6km deep.
“They were not actively drilling,” Coast Guard spokesman Glenn Sanchez said. “They were cutting a pipe or doing some type of maintenance that may have resulted in the explosion and fire.”
The federal Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement, which enforces offshore drilling regulations, said it was sending safety inspectors to the Black Elk platform.
Black Elk spokeswoman Leslie Hoffman said an emergency response was under way, but declined to comment further.