The US Coast Guard reports that an oil platform 27.3km south-east of Grand Isle, Louisiana owned by the Houston-based firm Black Elk Energy caught fire this morning. It has confirmed that two people are dead and two are missing. While it's impossible not to think immediately of 2010's Deep Water Horizon disaster, it's too early to tell the extent of the damage so far.
We're update as we learn more from the Coast Guard, Black Elk Energy, and other sources on the ground. The US Coast Guard has activated a "command centre" for the incident and says it will provide additional details later this morning.
All times in US EST.
Update 11:45 WWLTV reports that four people have been airlifted from the platform to the hospital. According to Jefferson Parish, Louisiana Councilman Chris Roberts there are no reports that any oil has spilled. It's a shallow water platform so it's much less dangerous than with deep water wells.
Update 11:52 There's a report that the two missing people jumped overboard.
Update 11:54 WWTV also has a statement form Black Elk Energy:
We cannot confirm or deny anything at this time, but we are assembling an incident command team right now," said Black Elk Energy asset manager Kirk Trascher
Update 11:59 WWL-TV has additional details straight from the Coast Guard:
Coast Guard Captain Peter Gautier said there was believed to be 28 people on the platform at the time. He said there were rescues that were done by Coast Guard and Good Samaritans.
Gautier said the platform was not actively producing oil and it is not believed that there is any chance for a major environmental disaster.
Well, that's a promising so far.
Update 12:03 Just yesterday, BP agreed to a plea bargain with the government in which it would admit to criminal responsibility for the 2010 Deep Water Horizon explosion that killed 11 workers and dumped untold millions of gallons of oil into the gulf. BP will pay $US4.5 billion in fines. The company is still potentially on the hook for another $20-odd billion in civil penalties and damages. [WSJ]
Update 12:06 We've got a statement on from Black Elk Energy, which says still collecting information. "We have Black Elk personnel on the scene, and we will release a statement this afternoon," a representative told Gizmodo.
Update 12:10 Here's some background on Black Elk Energy's well operations from its website. It's a major player with many wells in the region of this disaster.
Black Elk Energy holds interests in properties offshore in the Gulf of Mexico, located within Louisiana and Texas State and Federal waters with depths ranging from less than ten feet up to over 6,000 feet.
Through a series of selective transactions, Black Elk Energy has grown to include an aggregate interest in more than 854 wells on 155 platforms located across 430 thousand gross acres offshore. Black Elk holds a significant acreage position in the Gulf of Mexico from the mouth of the Mississippi River to Mustang Island.
Update 12:14 We spoke to United States Coast Guard Chief Petty Officer Bobby Nash, who told us, "We'll deal with the environmental impact once everyone is accounted for."
Update 12:20 Here's an image of Black Elk's well and platform locations. The specific platform that exploded is highlighted with an arrow.
Update 12:23 We got in touch with EPA Region 6 headquarters in Dallas. According to the office's spokesman Dave Bary, this falls entirely under USCG jurisdiction. No EPA response at this time.
Update 12:28 Black Elk Energy's website is down. And it appears that it's not just the pressure of increased traffic got the best of it. It was taken down intentionally.
Update 12:41 The fire on the platform is reportedly out.
Update 12:48 The US Coast Guard is the source which says the fire is out. CBS reports that the USCG had two small boats, an airplane, and two helicopters sent to the area.
Update 12:50 As for the environmental response, the US federal government is reportedly on it.
David Smith, a spokesman for the Interior Department's Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement, said a team of environmental enforcement inspectors was dispatched from a Gulf Coast base by helicopter soon after the Coast Guard was notified of the emergency.
There's a number of reasons we might not have as much to worry about in this case compared to others. First of all, this is a shallow water platform. Part of what made dealing with the Deep Water Horizon disaster so tough was the extreme depth.
Also, the platform is a production platform, not a well. It's not actually tapped into the bottom of the ocean floor. It's not drilling. Even better, there was no active production at the time of the fire.
Update 12:59 Here's a video from Black Elk Energy's environmental initiative.
Update 1:02 WWLTV reports that it appears the accident happened while maintenance workers were cutting pipe. This could have created the spark that ignited the platform's highly flammable payload.
Update 1:15 The situation appears to have stabilised; the US Coast Guard is still searching for the missing workers, and the full extent of the damage remains to be seen. We're in touch with representatives from the US Coast Guard, Black Elk Energy, and the government and we'll update again when we can get some clarification on those points.
Update 2:41 The Black Elk Energy front page is back (the news page is still down). They've added the following statement to the front page:
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Our thoughts and prayers are with those who are impacted. We have Black Elk personnel on the scene and en route. We are still collecting information at this time. We will release a statement this afternoon when we have more details.
If more information is needed, please call 281-779-8459
A kind statement. We couldn't agree more. Our condolences to those who lost loved ones in this tragedy.
Update 3:30 The US Coast Guard now says that the production platform will spill no more than 28 gallons (106L) of oil into the gulf of Mexico. This more or less confirms earlier reports indicating that the accident will most likely not be a major ecological disaster. [Houston Business Journal]
Additional reporting by Leslie Horn
Top image via KLFY 10 Acadiana's Multi-Media News