Platform explodes in Gulf, 80 miles south of Vermilion Bay

by Leslie Turk

An oil platform has exploded in the Gulf of Mexico, about 80 miles south of Vermilion Bay, and at least one person was injured.

[UPDATE: The AP is reporting a mile-long, 100-foot wide oil sheen flowing from this morning's production platform explosion in the Gulf. The following statement was released by Gov. Bobby Jindal about 3 p.m. today, after his press conference:

"It is too early to know what sparked the fire. The Coast Guard will do interviews with those who were rescued from the rig in order to determine the cause of the fire. Mariner is also investigating the cause of the fire on their platform, which is still burning at this time, but they told us they believe the fire is almost burned out' at this point.

"Mariner confirmed there were 13 people on board the platform. One was injured, but all are accounted for and have now been picked up by the Coast Guard and are being transported to Terrebonne General Hospital for evaluation of any injuries.

"Five aircraft from the US Coast Guard were launched from New Orleans in response to the incident, along with two helicopters from Houston and one fixed wing aircraft from Mobile. The Coast Guard set up a flight restriction zone 10 miles across in diameter and 5,000 feet high in order to support any search and rescue efforts.

"Officials with Mariner told us there are seven active wells on the production platform, and at one time there were 13 active wells. One of those active seven are said to have caught fire and the company says that all seven are shut in right now, but I want to stress again that the Coast Guard is still working to verify that the platform is indeed fully shut in. Current production from the platform is 1,400 barrels a day - 1,800 barrels a day maximum - and 9.2 million cubic feet of natural gas a day, Mariner officials told us.

"I also want to point out that the platform is in 340 feet of water, making it a shallow water well. There has also been a report of sheen around the platform that is one nautical mile by 100 feet, but again, this was reported by one source and has not been confirmed.

"We know that two pipelines from this platform go to shore: one is for Shell, which has not been active in months, and the other is for A&R, which is active. A vessel named the Candy Apple' is on site now combating the fire and Mariner Energy is exercising their fire-fighting plan.

"US Coast Guard Admiral Mary Landry said the Coast Guard will take the lead on pollution response. US Coast Guard Capt. Ed Stanton is the point person to ensure that the firefighting plan the company is executing does not worsen the shut in of the platform. Adm. Landry said assets from the Deepwater Horizon response are still located nearby. Capt. Stanton said Coast Guard's first response would be to apply dispersants in the event of oil leaking, but with only a sheen reported at this time they will not activate that response yet.

"Mariner suspects that what is burning now was in storage. The company had 100 barrels of condensate on the platform, but again, there is no confirmation of what is burning at this time and the Coast Guard is continuing to work to confirm the source of the fire.

"We know from the Deepwater Horizon Spill that information comes in very rapidly and often changes as our awareness increases on the ground. We already have a Coast Guard liaison embedded, which is very important to maintain maximum situational awareness as this incident continues to unfold."

The governor also stressed that the state is ready to provide any resources needed in response activities. The Department of Wildlife and Fisheries has already deployed four 32-foot Boston Whaler boats to the site of the platform fire. Those boats were launched out of Vermillion this morning. Additionally, Louisiana State Police and the Louisiana Oil Spill Coordinator's Office are sending agency representatives to work with response officials on site in Vermillion.]

ORIGINAL STORY: An oil platform has exploded in the Gulf of Mexico, about 80 miles south of Vermilion Bay, and at least one person was injured. The U.S. Coast Guard confirmed to several media outlets that the production platform is still burning, and that 13 people were overboard.

Gov. Bobby Jindal will hold a press conference at 12:30 p.m. We will update this story as more information becomes available.

The Times-Picayune reported that the explosion and fire occurred on Vermilion Oil Rig 380, which is owned by Mariner Energy. The T-P confirmed that Vermilion 380 is a fixed, manned production platform. It's not a well being drilled for oil, like BP's Macondo well, and it's not a floating rig like the Deepwater Horizon, the paper noted.

The incident was first reported by a commercial helicopter company around 9:30 a.m., according to the Coast Guard.

Read more here.