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Gulf of Mexico Drilling Rig Catches Fire After Gas Release

Natural Gas Catches Fire on Drilling Rig at Gulf of Mexico Well
A natural gas cloud is seen above a Hercules drilling rig in the Gulf of Mexico off the coast of Louisiana yesterday. Source: Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement/AP

July 24 (Bloomberg) -- Natural gas leaking from a Walter Oil & Gas Corp. well in the Gulf of Mexico caught fire on an evacuated rig about 55 miles (88 kilometers) off Louisiana.

The cause of the fire that began about 10:50 p.m. local time yesterday is unknown, said Eileen Angelico, a New Orleans-based spokeswoman for the Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement. No injuries were reported, with nobody on board the Hercules 265 jack-up rig at the time, she said by e-mail.

“The extent of the damage to the rig is currently unknown,” Hercules Offshore Inc. said today in a statement. “All parties involved are working with third-party experts to develop a plan to regain control over the natural-gas well, which could include the drilling of a relief well” to halt the leak.

Walter Oil & Gas, which operates the A-3 well in the South Timbalier 220 lease block, lost control of drilling operations at about 8:45 a.m. yesterday, according to the BSEE. No oil was spilled, Walter Oil & Gas said in a statement yesterday.

The U.S. suspended drilling in the Gulf of Mexico for five months after the blowout of BP Plc’s Macondo well in April 2010, killing 11 workers and setting off an 87-day spill that fouled thousands of square miles and shut much of the Gulf to fishing.

Wild Well Control Inc. was hired to bring the blown-out well under control, Associated Press said, citing Angelico. Officials were unable to get close to the well late yesterday, before the fire broke out, as it was unsafe, AP said.

The Gulf accounts for 5.8 percent of U.S. gas production, according to the Energy Information Administration, the statistical arm of the Energy Department.

The incident occurred while Walter Oil & Gas was carrying out completion work on the sidetrack well in preparation for production, according to an earlier BSEE statement. Before the fire, the bureau reported a natural gas cloud above the rig and a light sheen on the water a half-mile by 50 feet in area.

Natural gas futures in New York fell 0.4 percent to $3.727 per million British thermal units by 7:33 a.m. local time.

To contact the reporters on this story: Ramsey Al-Rikabi in Singapore at ralrikabi@bloomberg.net; Rakteem Katakey in New Delhi at rkatakey@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Alexander Kwiatkowski at akwiatkowsk2@bloomberg.net

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