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Sep 3, 2010 9:35 PM by Alison Haynes

Coast Guard: Sheen not likely from active oil leak

NEW ORLEANS (AP) - A day after a fire on an offshore oil
platform off the central Louisiana coast, federal investigators
went aboard to make sure no oil is leaking from the site.
The Coast Guard said Friday that no oil is believed to be
leaking from the platform, which erupted in flames on Thursday and
forced 13 workers into the water. Houston-based Mariner Energy
Inc., which owns the platform, also said its investigators found no
sign of leaking oil.
A light sheen about 100 yards long and 10 yards wide was spotted
near the platform during a Coast Guard flyover Friday morning.
Petty Officer Steve Lehmann said officials believe it is oil that
remained after firefighting efforts on Thursday and not an active
leak.
A patrol boat and a helicopter surveyed the area Friday near the
Vermilion 380 platform. The Coast Guard said the sheen nearELHe
platform indicated an extremely small amount of oil in the water,
as little as one gallon.
The fire erupted Thursday morning, forcing 13 workers to
evacuate. No injuries were reported and the fire was out by
afternoon. The cause of the fire is under investigation.
The company said the platform was not an exploration rig but a
platform above seven producing wells, and disputed reports of an
explosion.
"This was a fire, not an explosion," spokesman Tom Sommers
said Friday.
Damage was largely contained to the living quarters on the
platform, though it appeared the fire did not start there, Sommers
said.
The platform may be able to resume operations in a few months,
he said.
Sommers said investigators were trying to find out why an
automatic system shut down the production wells before the fire
started. A crew was on the platform painting and sandblasting when
the fire occurred, Sommers said.
TheADRreau of Ocean Energy Management, Regulation and
Enforcement, through spokesman Nicholas Pardi, declined comment
Friday on the its investigation.
The BP-leased rig Deepwater Horizon, which sank April 22 after
an explosion and fire, had been drilling and was not producing oil
or gas when it exploded April 20, killing 11 people and leading to
a spill of more than 200 million gallons of crude oil into the
Gulf. The Mariner Energy-owned platform was 200 miles west of the
spill site, but everything from the structures to the operations to
the safety devices were different.
Yet when word of the latest mishap spread, residents along the
coast could think only of the three-month spill that began after
the Deepwater Horizon disaster.
"It's unbelievable," said Sophie Esch, 28, a Tulane graduate
student from Berlin. "They should finally stop drilling in the
Gulf. They should shut down all the drilling out there and not give
WAmission to do any more. They've shown that it's just unsafe."
Stephanie Breaux of Gueydan, La., said her son, Joseph Breaux,
28, was aboard the Mariner platform. She said she heard from his
wife Thursday morning that an explosion had happened. "It was like
a nightmare, a bad dream that I just wanted to wake up from," she
said.
She said her son was airlifted to a hospital in Houma, La., and
called her.
"He just wanted to let me know he was OK. That's really all he
wanted to talk about," she said.
Breaux said her son told her he helped one man who didn't have a
life preserver stay afloat. "They were able to hold on to one of
the fellas. They were linked arm-to-arm," she said.
Platforms like the Vermilion 380 are vastly different from oil
rigs like the Deepwater Horizon, which was leased by BP but owned
by Transocean Ltd. They are usually brought in after wells are
already drilled and sealed and oil is f ing at a predictable
pressure. A majority of platforms in the Gulf do not require crews
on board.
"A production platform is much more stable," said Andy
Radford, an API expert on offshore oil drilling.
Many platforms, especially those in shallower water, stand on
legs that are drilled into the sea floor. Like a giant octopus,
each spreads numerous pipelines and can tap into many wells at
once.
The Deepwater Horizon was drilling a well a mile beneath the
sea, which made trying to plug it after it blew out an incredible
challenge, with BP trying techniques never tested. The platform
that caught fire, meanwhile, was operating in 340 feet of water in
a shallow area of the Gulf known as a major source of gas.
Responding to any oil spill in such a shallow spot would be much
easier than in deep water, where crews depend on remote-operated
vehicles to access equipment on the sea floor.
Platforms do not have blowo preventers like deep water rigs
that are supposed to shut down wells if there is problem. But they
are usually equipped with a series of redundant valves that can
shut off oil and gas at different points along the pipeline.
Mariner Energy officials said there were seven active production
wells on its platform, and they were shut down shortly before the
fire broke out.
The platform was still intact and a small portion appeared
burned, said Mariner's Patrick Cassidy. Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal
said the company told him the fire began in 100 barrels of light
oil condensate.
A Homeland Security update obtained by The Associated Press said
the platform was producing 58,800 gallons of oil and 900,000 cubic
feet of gas per day. The platform can store 4,200 gallons of oil.
The workers aboard the platform were found huddled in the water
together, holding hands and wearing life jackets.
A captain of the Crystal Clear--- 110-foot boat that rescued
them, said his craft was 25 miles away when it received a distress
call.
When Capt. Dan Shaw arrived at the scene, the workers had been
in the water for two hours and were thirsty and tired.
"We gave them soda and water, anything they wanted to drink,"
Shaw said. "They were just glad to be on board with us."
Shaw said workers told him the blast was so sudden that they did
not have time to get into lifeboats. They did not mention what
might have caused it.
"They just said there was an explosion, there was a fire,"
Shaw said. "It happened very quick."
Crew members were flown to a hospital and released by early
Thursday evening.
There are about 3,400 platforms operating in the Gulf, according
to the American Petroleum Institute. Together they pump about a
third of the America's domestic oil, forming the backbone of the
country's petroleum industry.

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