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Apr 21, 2010 7:29 PM by Letitia Walker

Update: Search Continues for 11 Workers Following Oil Rig Explosion

NEW ORLEANS (AP) - An explosion rocked an offshore oil drilling

platform, sending a column of fire into the sky and touching off a

frantic search at sea Wednesday for 11 missing workers.

Most of the 126 workers on the rig Deepwater Horizon escaped

safely after the explosion about 10 p.m. Tuesday, the Coast Guard

said. Three were critically injured.

The rig, more than 50 miles southeast of Venice on Louisiana's

tip, was still burning Wednesday afternoon. It was tilting about 10

degrees. There was no estimate of when the flames might be out.

Helicopters and boats searched the Gulf of Mexico for any sign

of the workers who had not been accounted for.

"We're hoping everyone's in a life raft," Coast Guard Senior

Chief Petty Officer Mike O'Berry said.

The Coast Guard said there were 17 workers evacuated by air and

sea Wednesday morning but not all required hospital stays. Three

were in critical condition, Rear Admiral Mary Landry.

The other 98 workers were being brought in by boat and were

expected ashore Wednesday evening.

When the explosion happened, the rig was drilling but was not in

production, according to Greg Panagos, spokesman for its owner,

Transocean Ltd. in Houston. The rig was under contract to BP PLC.

BP spokesman Darren Beaudo said all BP personnel were safe but he

didn't know how many BP workers had been on the rig.

Adrian Rose, vice president of Transocean, said crews were doing

routine work before the explosion and there were no signs of

trouble.

Coast Guard environmental teams were on standby in Morgan City,

La., to assess any environmental damage once the fire was out.

According to Transocean's website, the Deepwater Horizon is 396

feet long and 256 feet wide. The semi-submersible rig was built in

2001 by Hyundai Heavy Industries Shipyard in South Korea. The site

is known as the Macondo prospect, in 5,000 feet of water.

The rig is designed to operate in water up to 8,000 feet deep

and has a maximum drill depth of about 5.5 miles. It can

accommodate a crew of up to 130.

A semi-submersible rig is floated to a drilling site. It has

pontoons and a column that submerge when flooded with seawater. The

rig doesn't touch the sea floor, but sits low in the water, where

it is moored by several large anchors.

Last September, the Deepwater Horizon set a world deepwater

record when it drilled down just over 35,000 feet at another BP

site in the Gulf of Mexico, Panagos said.

"It's one of the more advanced rigs out there," he said.

Panagos did not know how much the rig cost to build, but said a

similar rig today would run $600 million to $700 million.

Workers typically spend two weeks on the rig at a time, followed

by two weeks off. It is equipped with covered lifeboats with

supplies to allow them to survive for extended periods if they must

evacuate.

Total offshore daily production in the Gulf of Mexico is 1.7

million barrels in federal waters; 6.6 billion cubic feet of

natural gas per day is produced in those waters. There are about

35,000 workers offshore in the Gulf at any one time, according to

MMS.

Joe Hurt, a regional vice president for the International

Association of Drilling Contractors, said working on offshore oil

rigs is a dangerous job but has become safer in recent years thanks

to enhanced training, improved safety systems and better

maintenance.

"In recent years, there's been a lot more money available and

more money spent on training and safety," he said.

Transocean has 14 rigs working in the Gulf and 140 worldwide.

There are 42 deep water rigs either drilling or doing workovers -

upgrades and maintenance - in depths of 1,000 feet or greater in

the Gulf of Mexico, according to the federal Minerals Management

Service.

Since 2001, there have been 69 offshore deaths, 1,349 injuries

and 858 fires and explosions in the Gulf, according to the agency,

which did not break down the cause of the deaths, the severity of

the injuries, or the size of the fires and explosions.

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NEW ORLEANS - The U.S. Coast Guard said 12 oil workers missing after a rig explosion off Louisiana have not been found, contrary to a report by a local government official.

"We have not. We're still searching," said U.S. Coast Guard Lt. Sue Kerver, noting that the Coast Guard is the lead agency for the search and rescue effort.

Plaquemines Parish President Billy Nungesser had earlier told NBC affiliate WDSU that he received reports that the workers were alive and safe.

He had also posted online that he had gotten reports that "the life raft with the remaining people unnaccounted for was found and all are being brought to safety."

Nungesser later updated his post with an apology, saying "we received third hand information that was believed to be credible."

Fifteen other workers were injured, including seven critically, after the explosion that left the offshore drilling rig listing at 70 degrees and on fire in the Gulf of Mexico.

Most of the 126 people on the rig, called Deepwater Horizon, escaped safely after the explosion at about 10 p.m. Tuesday, Coast Guard Senior Chief Petty Officer Mike O'Berry said.

However Coast Guard spokeswoman Katherine McNamara told msnbc.com that 15 had been injured, seven critically.

'Burning pretty good'
The rig, about 52 miles southeast of Venice on Louisiana's tip, was still burning Wednesday and had been listing at about 10 degrees when it tilted further.

"It's burning pretty good and there's no estimate on when the fire will be put out," O'Berry said.

O'Berry said many workers who escaped the rig were being brought to land on a workboat.

O'Berry said at one point the fire was so large and intense that it was hampering rescue efforts, WWL TV reported.

The rig was drilling but was not in production, according to Greg Panagos, spokesman for its owner, Transocean Ltd., in Houston. The rig was under contract to BP PLC.

"As far as we know there have been no fatalities, but this could change," Panagos was quoted as saying by the website Upstreamonline.com.

"Injured personnel are receiving medical treatment as necessary," the statement added. "The names and hometowns of injured persons are being withheld until family members can be notified."

BP spokesman David Nicholas said all six BP personnel who had been on the rig were safe.

Kerver said the Coast Guard and the federal Minerals Management Service will work together to investigate possible causes of the accident.

"It's still too early to tell the cause," Panagos said. "Our focus right now is on taking care of the people."

The Coast Guard statement included a next-of-kin hotline number, (832) 587-8554.

O'Berry said Coast Guard environmental teams were on standby in Morgan City, La., to assess any environmental damage once the fire was out.


18,000 gallons spilled in early April

According to Transocean's website, the Deepwater Horizon is 396 feet long and 256 feet wide. The semi-submersible rig was built in 2001 by Hyundai Heavy Industries Shipyard in South Korea. The site is known as the Macondo prospect, in 5,000 feet of water.

The rig is designed to operate in water depths up to 8,000 feet and has a maximum drill depth of about 5.5 miles. It can accommodate a crew of up to 130.

The rig is floated to drilling sites, and has pontoons and a column that submerge when flooded with seawater. The rig doesn't touch the sea floor, but sits low in the water, where it is moored by several large anchors.


Last September, the Deepwater Horizon set a world deepwater record when it drilled down just over 35,000 feet at another BP site in the Gulf of Mexico, Panagos said.

"It's one of the more advanced rigs out there," he said.

Panagos did not know how much the rig cost to build, but said a similar rig today would run $600 million to $700 million.

Transocean has 14 rigs working in the Gulf and 140 worldwide.

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