BOE begins inquiry into Mariner offshore platform explosion

This story was updated Sept. 7 with additional information.

Nick Snow
OGJ Washington Editor

WASHINGTON, DC, Sept. 3 -- The US Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, Regulation, and Enforcement (BOE) has launched an investigation of the Sept. 2 explosion at a Mariner Energy Inc. production platform in the Gulf of Mexico, BOE Director Michael R. Bromwich said on Sept. 3. The US Coast Guard will support BOE’s investigation, he added.

Bromwich’s announcement came a day after US House Energy and Commerce Democratic leaders sent a letter to Mariner Chief Executive Officer Scott D. Josey requesting a briefing on the event, during which 13 workers evacuated the structure and waited 2 hr in the water before being rescued, and its possible causes by Sept. 10.

“We are continuing to closely monitor this situation, which will be investigated fully,” said Bromwich. “We will use all available resources to ensure that we find out what happened, how it happened, and what enforcement action should be taken if any laws or regulations were violated.” Members of the US Department of the Interior agency’s new investigations and review unit will lead the effort, he indicated. 

BOE subsequently reported that its inspectors saw no sign of pollution coming from the Vermilion 380 platform during an initial inspection on Sept. 3. “The inspectors were on the platform for several hours today and confirmed the safety shut-in valves for the associated wells and incoming and outgoing pipelines are all closed, and the platform's tanks and pumps are secure,” the US Department of the Interior agency said in a statement.

The incident occurred on Vermilion Block 380 in 340 ft of water about 102 miles off Louisiana on a platform authorized to produce oil and gas at this water depth, according to BOE. It was not covered by the 6-month deepwater drilling suspension imposed by Interior Sec. Ken Salazar at the end of May following the Apr. 20 Macondo well blowout, rig explosion, and crude oil spill.

House Energy and Commerce Committee Chairman Henry A. Waxman (D-Calif.), Oversight and Investigations Subcommittee Chairman Bart Stupak (D-Mich.), and Energy and Environment Subcommittee Chairman Edward J. Markey (D-Mass.) signed the Sept. 2 letter to Josey.

‘Significant risks’
“This explosion highlights the significant risks associated with offshore drilling, and that much is left to be done to keep America’s workers and waters safe from those risks,” Markey said. “After the 13 workers on this rig are safe and sound, we have a duty to them and all oil workers to make sure the oil industry’s drilling practices are also safe and sound.”

In Washington, National Ocean Industries Association Pres. Randall B. Luthi said on Sept. 2 that any offshore energy industry accident is worthy of attention, “whether it be as minor as a trip and fall or something resulting in serious injury. The good news is that today, there was no loss of life. But coming just 4 months after the Macondo well accident, today’s incident hits everyone’s radar.

“While we do not yet know the cause of today’s accident, we must keep things in perspective, and remember that accidents happen in almost any occupation,” he said, adding, We should also remember that oil and gas is vital to our economy and everyday lives.”
 
James W. Noe, executive director of the Shallow Water Energy Coalition, suggested in a Sept. 3 statement that the full facts should be known before the latest incident is used to stop US offshore oil and gas drilling.

“The fire occurred on a production platform, not a drilling rig and no drilling operations were involved,” said Noe, who also is senior vice-president, general counsel, and chief compliance officer at Houston-based offshore drilling contractor Hercules Offshore Inc.

Contact Nick Snow at nicks@pennwell.com.

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