Feds Launch Investigation of Gulf Platform Fire

Boats are seen spraying water on an oil and gas platform that exploded in the Gulf of Mexico, off the coast of Louisiana., Thursday, Sept. 2, 2010. All 13 crew members were rescued. (AP Photo/Gerald Herbert)
AP Photo
The agency that oversees offshore drilling will investigate the fire on an oil platform in the Gulf of Mexico.

Thursday's fire came less than five months after the explosion of the Deepwater Horizon oil rig that killed 11 people and spurred the worst offshore oil spill in the nation's history.

This time no one was killed, and the Coast Guard said no crude was leaking.

Special Section: Disaster in the Gulf

Michael Bromwich, director of the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, Regulation and Enforcement, says his agency will work with the Coast Guard to investigate the fire. The oil platform is owned by Houston-based Mariner Energy Inc.

The agency was formerly known as the Minerals Management Service and renamed in the wake of the BP-Deepwater Horizon disaster. The MMS was tainted a record of lax oversight and corruption scandals.

Officials are investigating to determine what sparked the fire on the rig, known as Vermilion 380, CBS News Correspondent Don Teague reports from Houma, La.

Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal said the company told him the fire began in 100 barrels of light oil condensate, but officials did not know yet what sparked the flames.

The Coast Guard said Thursday that a mile-long oil sheen was spreading into the Gulf of Mexico but later backed off of that report.

The company that owns the platform, Houston-based Mariner Energy, did not know what caused the blast, which was reported by a helicopter flying over the area. Seven Coast Guard helicopters, two airplanes and three cutters were dispatched to the scene.

Vermilion 380 is not a drilling rig but an oil and natural gas production platform anchored to the sea floor in 340 feet of water, Teague reports. The platform ordinarily pumps 1,400 barrels of oil per day to shore from seven active wells.

According to Interior Department data, Vermilion 380A run by Mariner is manned 24 hours a day. The "install date" of the platform structure is listed as Jan. 1, 1980.

There are about 3,400 platforms operating in the Gulf, according to the American Petroleum Institute. Together they pump about a third of the America's domestic oil, forming the backbone of the country's petroleum industry.

Platforms are vastly different from oil rigs like the Deepwater Horizon. They are usually brought in after wells are already drilled and sealed.

"A production platform is much more stable," said Andy Radford, an API expert on offshore oil drilling. "On a drilling rig, you're actually drilling the well. You're cutting. You're pumping mud down the hole. You have a lot more activity on a drilling rig."

Federal authorities have cited Mariner Energy and related entities for 10 accidents in the Gulf of Mexico over the last four years, according to safety records from the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, Regulation and Enforcement.