Gulf of Mexico rig fire wanes; relief well still option

The flow of natural gas under pressure from a gas well on South Timbalier Block 220 in the Gulf of Mexico remained stopped, and a fire on a jack up rig has decreased to a small flame, the US Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement said July 26, adding a relief well still might be drilled.

The operator, Houston-based Walter Oil & Gas Corp., reported a loss of control of Well A-3 at 8:45 a.m. July 23 on an unmanned platform during completion work on a sidetrack well. Consequently, 44 people were evacuated from the Hercules 265 jack up. Leaking gas ignited at 10:45 p.m. July 23.

On July 25, the well was reported to have bridged over, meaning sand and sediment blocked the flow of gas. Preliminary visual inspection of the area indicated the structural integrity of the rig remains intact.

The rig and well are 55 miles offshore Louisiana in 154 ft of water. Drilling contractor Hercules Offshore has said the rig remains standing although the derrick and drill floor appear to have collapsed. Extent of damage to the jack up currently is undetermined.

Work continues to secure the well. All options are being considered, including the drilling of a relief well, responders said.

BSEE, US Coast Guard, and Walter Oil & Gas set up a Unified Command at Houma, La., to coordinate ongoing response efforts.

Firefighting vessels remains at the site along with personnel from Walter Oil & Gas, Hercules, Wild Well Control, other engineering contractors, and relevant federal agencies.  At present, response personnel are conducting aerial observations and monitoring the rig. 

The 225-ft USCG Cutter Cypress is onsite to assess the situation and enforce a 500-m security zone around the rig. A slight sheen on the water's surface appears to be dissipating quickly, BSEE and other observers report.  Air and gas monitoring equipment was deployed around the well to help ensure safe operations.

BSEE and USCG are investigating the cause of the well-control incident.

Contact Paula Dittrick at paulad@ogjonline.com.

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