A natural gas well about 55 miles off the coast of Louisiana in the Gulf of Mexico caught fire on July 23 following a blowout that caused the evacuation of the rig, Bloomberg reported.
Officials from the Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement stated that so far no sheens have been detected on the surface of the water. This suggests that the gas has been burning off without releasing oil or other hydrocarbons which are often present in gas wells, the Bureau said.
The Houston Business Journal reported that as a result of the blowout, beams that supported the derrick and rig floor collapsed. After the Bureau was informed of the situation, it ordered the operator to begin immediate preparation for moving a jack-up rig to start drilling a relief well. However, the well was inaccessible and works could not start because it was very unsafe.
Later that day, about an hour before midnight, fire broke out, Eileen Angelico, a spokeswoman for the Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement, explained in an email to Bloomberg. The cause of the fire is still unknown, she added, but said that operator Walter Oil & Gas Corporation had reported to the Bureau that workers were completing a "sidetrack well," which is usually drilled as a means to enter the original well. Industry experts confirmed that such wells are sometimes drilled to fix a problem in the existing well bore.
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Houston, Texas-based Walter Oil & Gas reportedly lost control over drilling operations at the A-3 well in the South Timbalier 220 lease block on Tuesday evening. The company stated that no oil was spilled in the incident, while a number of industry experts were trying to regain control over the well. A team of employees at Wild Well Control Inc was also brought to the site, the Associated Press reported, quoting Angelico. Prior to the fire, there was a natural gas cloud above the rig and light sheen covered the surface of the water spanning an area of a half-mile by 50 feet but this was dissipating rapidly.
Meanwhile, Bloomberg tried to reach Son Vann, a spokesman for Hercules Offshore Inc., owner of the drilling rig, but was unable to do so. A representative of the operator also declined to comment, stating that the company would later issue a press release.
The fire raised concerns that the outcome might be similar to that of the 2010 Deepwater Horizon disaster, when the Gulf of Mexico was severely damaged by the explosion of a BP rig, which killed 11 people and caused an oil spill that took months to clean up. However, officials noted that a natural gas leak was less dangerous to the environment than a leak of crude oil.
Any incident that potentially interferes with normal drilling operations in the Gulf of Mexico could cost the U.S. oil and gas industry dearly. As much as 5.8 percent of the total gas production in the United States comes from the Gulf, data from the U.S. Energy Information Administration shows.