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Thursday, September 2, 2010

Another Gulf oil rig explodes, exposing inconvenient truth that drilling is unsafe

Less than six months after the Deepwater Horizon disaster began...
An offshore oil platform exploded in the Gulf of Mexico on Thursday morning, injuring one worker, the United States Coast Guard said.

The production platform, which was operated by the Houston-based Mariner Energy, 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 this spring, killing 11 people and touching off an environmental calamity.
It is not yet known whether the platform is in danger of sinking. The New York Times is reporting that "government officials said the Mariner platform had not been involved in any recent oil and gas production", but Mariner Energy's own press release (not referenced in the article) contradicts this:
Mariner Energy, Inc. (NYSE: ME) confirms that a fire has occurred at a production platform located on Vermilion Block 380, approximately 100 miles from the Louisiana coast. All 13 members of the crew have been evacuated and safely accounted for. No injuries have been reported. In an initial flyover, no hydrocarbon spill was reported.

Mariner has notified and is working with regulatory authorities in response to this incident. The cause is not known, and an investigation will be undertaken. During the last week of August 2010, production from this facility averaged approximately 9.2 million cubic feet of natural gas per day and 1,400 barrels of oil and condensate. Updated information will be provided as available.
Emphasis is mine. Apparently, it was the Coast Guard that erroneously told the media that the platform wasn't producing any oil or gas. I seem to recall they also provided incorrect information in the immediate wake of the Deepwater Horizon disaster. They need to get their facts straight before they open their mouths.

There apparently is an oil sheen. Mariner's initial press release said "no oil is leaking" but since then people working for the company have seen a slick. It is estimated at one nautical mile by one hundred feet in size.

Mariner has been involved in a string of accidents since 2006, the Houston Chronicle says. Seven resulted from safety violations.

It was penalized for at least two of them.

CultureMap Houston has a post up exploring Mariner Energy's connections to Enron (now defunct) and BP, as well as Apache Corporation, the oil company that was set to take over Mariner. That merger may now be complicated as a result of the Vermilion 380 mess. We'll know more in the coming days.

Media reports about this tragedy have so far been incomplete and conflicting. Be careful drawing conclusions about what happened at this point. One thing we do know: Oil drilling is an inherently risky, unsafe business that has the potential to threaten or claim human lives as well as seriously damage fragile ecosystems. More drilling won't help us achieve energy independence.

POSTSCRIPT: The earlier report of an oil sheen sighting was erroneous. Both the Coast Guard and Mariner Energy say they haven't observed any spill or leak in the ocean, and the fire aboard the platform is now thankfully out.

"Automated shutoff equipment on the platform safely turned off the flow of oil and gas from the platform's seven producing wells before the fire occurred and the crew evacuated," Mariner announced in a news release this afternoon. The company has launched an internal investigation.

(See photos of the fire being extinguished).

The White House did not release a statement in response to the incident, but Press Secretary Robert Gibbs was asked about it during today's press briefing.

"We will continue to gather information as we respond. We obviously have response assets ready for deployment should we receive reports of pollution in the water," Gibbs said.

The White House later confirmed that the President had been briefed on the incident by Deputy National Security Adviser John Brennan.

Environmental activists from the Pacific Northwest and across the nation responded by calling on President Obama to protect America's oceans.

“We are stunned to hear of yet another rig explosion in the Gulf of Mexico," said NPI alumnus Brock Howell, State Policy Advocate for Environment Oregon. "President Obama should need no further wake-up call to permanently ban new drilling. He should radically strengthen oversight of the existing offshore oil industry to prevent more accidents like the one today, but also permanently protect the coasts where we don’t drill now."

We agree. We can't end our oil addiction if we keep drilling and drilling. If the President is serious about protecting the environment and making the switch to renewable energy, he'll move to ban all new offshore drilling permanently.


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