Oil Platform Blaze off Louisiana Leaves Workers Missing

Category: US Society / Nov 16, 2012 7:16PM EDT
Two people are missing and several injured after an oil platform in the Gulf of Mexico burst into flames on Friday (November 16). The oil platform was operated by Houston-based Black Elk Energy. CEO John Hoffman said the fire started after construction crews used an inappropriate cutting device. "What we know at this point is the line that was cut was supposed to be cut with a cold cutting device, non sparking device. Apparently the construction crew used a cutting torch that ignited vapors in the line which then ignited the tanks," Hoffman said. The fire has been extinguished, a Black Elk spokesperson said. The U.S. 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, located around 17 miles south of Grand Isle, Louisiana. No fatalities have been confirmed but two workers are 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. When it caught fire, 22 workers were aboard the shallow-water platform, which was not actively drilling or producing oil and gas, the Coast Guard said. An oil sheen is being monitored in waters nearby. The Coast Guard said there appeared to be little risk of a major oil spill because production was shut off before the fire, and Black Elk told authorities that any spill could be as little as 28 gallons. The latest potentially deadly offshore incident comes a day after oil giant BP Plc reached an agreement to pay record penalties of $4.5 billion for its role in the 2010 Deepwater Horizon disaster, which spewed 4.9 million barrels of oil into the Gulf of Mexico and killed 11 workers. The Black Elk platform sits in 56 feet of water and its production apparatus was shut off before the fire. In contrast, the BP disaster happened during a drilling operation in waters nearly a mile deep. Federal data and SEC filings show that Black Elk, a minor producer in the Gulf, has a recent history of close calls, platform incidents and fines, including a $300,000 federal penalty it paid in September.