Evacuated drilling rig in Gulf of Mexico catches fire


The drilling rig that caught fire off the coast of Louisiana Tuesday night has started to collapse in on itself as natural gas continues to spew out of the shallow-water well it was drilling, federal regulators said Wednesday.

Two firefighting vessels that were in the area had to move away from the burning rig, the federal Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement said in a statement, adding that a third firefighting ship is heading to the site.

Walter Oil & Gas, which leased the well, is preparing to move another drilling rig nearby in case a relief well is needed to stop the flow of gas, regulators said.

The rig, owned by Houston-based Hercules Offshore, was evacuated Tuesday morning after the well it was drilling blew out. All 44 crewmembers evacuated safely from the rig, which was located in 154 feet of water about 55 miles off Grand Isle, Louisiana. The gas ignited about 10:50 p.m. local time on Tuesday, regulators said.

Analysts said the rig was equipped with blowout preventers, the safety equipment that is meant to shut off out-of-control oil and gas wells. A spokesman for Walter Oil & Gas initially said the blowout preventer appeared to have failed, but the company later said it was still investigating the incident and wouldn't know the cause of the blowout, or why the well continues to flow, for some time.

The failure of a blowout preventer far below the sea was implicated in the 2010 Deepwater Horizon explosion, which killed 11 workers and led to the biggest offshore oil spill in US history.

Tuesday's incident came after workers lost control of another well earlier this month in the shallow waters of the Gulf of Mexico, where workers were in the process of plugging an aging well owned by Talos Energy. That well leaked a small amount of gas and liquid before it was plugged.

Dow Jones Newswires

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