Oil platform explodes off LA coast; crew rescued

NEW ORLEANS, La. - (AP) - An oil platform exploded and burned offthe Louisiana coast Thursday, the second such disaster in the Gulfof Mexico in less than five months. This time, the Coast Guard saidthere was no leak, and no one was killed.

The Coast Guard initially reported that an oil sheen a mile longand 100 feet wide had begun to spread from the site of the blast,about 200 miles west of the source of BP's massive spill. But hourslater, Coast Guard Cmdr. Cheri Ben-Iesau said crews were unable tofind any spill.

The company that owns the platform, Houston-based MarinerEnergy, did not know what caused the explosion.

Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal said Mariner officials told himthere were seven active production wells on the platform, and theywere shut down shortly after the fire broke out.

Jindal said the company told him the fire began in 100 barrelsof light oil condensate, but officials did not know yet whatsparked the flames.

The Coast Guard said Mariner Energy reported the oil sheen. In apublic statement, the company said an initial flyover did not showany oil.

Photos from the scene showed at least five ships floating nearthe platform. Three of them were shooting great plumes of wateronto the machinery. Light smoke could be seen drifting across thedeep blue waters of the gulf.

By late afternoon, the fire on the platform was out.

The platform is in about 340 feet of water and about 100 milessouth of Louisiana's Vermilion Bay. Its location is consideredshallow water, much less than the approximately 5,000 feet whereBP's well spewed oil and gas for three months after the April rigexplosion that killed 11 workers.

A Homeland Security update obtained by The Associated Press saidthe platform was producing 58,800 gallons of oil and 900,000 cubicfeet of gas per day. The platform can store 4,200 gallons of oil.

White House press secretary Robert Gibbs said the administrationhas "response assets ready for deployment should we receivereports of pollution in the water."

All 13 of the platform's crew members were rescued from thewater. They were found huddled together in insulated survivaloutfits called "Gumby suits" for their resemblance to the cartooncharacter.

Crew members were being flown to a hospital in Houma. The CoastGuard said one person was injured, but the company said there wereno injuries. All of them were released by early Thursday evening.

There are about 3,400 platforms operating in the Gulf, accordingto the American Petroleum Institute. Together they pump about athird of the America's domestic oil, forming the backbone of thecountry's petroleum industry.

Platforms are vastly different from oil rigs like BP's DeepwaterHorizon. They are usually brought in after wells are alreadydrilled and sealed.

Federal authorities have cited Mariner Energy and relatedentities for 10 accidents in the Gulf of Mexico over the last fouryears, according to safety records from the Bureau of Ocean EnergyManagement, Regulation and Enforcement.

The accidents range from platform fires to pollution spills anda blowout, according to accident-investigation reports from theagency formerly known as the Minerals Management Service.

On Friday, BP was expected to begin the process of removing thecap and failed blowout preventer from its ruptured well, anotherstep toward completion of a relief well that would seal the leakpermanently. The Deepwater Horizon exploded April 20, setting off athree-month leak that totaled 206 million gallons of oil.

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