1 Pinoy dead, 9 hurt in US oil rig explosion
Rainier Allan Ronda (The Philippine Star) - November 19, 2012 - 12:00am

MANILA, Philippines - The Philippine embassy in Washington reported that one Filipino worker was killed, nine others were injured and another remained missing after a fire that was triggered by an explosion last Saturday evening at an oil rig off the coast of Louisiana in the United States.

Raul Hernandez, Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) spokesman, yesterday said the embassy had confirmed that the body of a Filipino worker was recovered near the offshore oil platform in the Gulf of Mexico.

The fatality was not immediately identified.

Two Filipinos were earlier reported missing after the explosion and fire at the oil platform even as the US Coast Guard called off the search and rescue operations.

Philippine Ambassador to Washington Jose Cuisia Jr. reported that four of the injured Filipino workers were being treated for serious burns at Baton Rouge Hospital in Louisiana.

He said two Filipinos were listed in critical condition and the other two in serious condition.

The DFA said the injured Filipinos were not immediately identified.

“Our welfare officer will be proceeding to the hospital to check on the condition of the injured Filipino oil workers and see what assistance the PH (Philippine) government could extend to them or their families in the Philippines,” Hernandez told The STAR.

The Philippine embassy is closely monitoring the condition of the injured Filipinos.

It was initially reported that the explosion happened while the workers were using a cutting torch atop the oil production platform owned by Black Elk Energy, a Houston-based independent oil and gas company.

Cuisia said the Filipino workers were among an estimated 162 welders, fitters, scaffolders and riggers that were hired in the Philippines through D&R Resources and its partner agency in Manila to work in offshore platforms in the Gulf of Mexico.

In an interview aired over GMA’s “News TV Live” yesterday morning, Cuisia corrected an earlier report and said only nine Filipino – not 13 – were hurt in the blast that also injured five Americans.

The US Coast Guard called off its search for the missing workers after a fire broke out on an oil platform in the Gulf of Mexico, sending an ominous black plume of smoke into the air reminiscent of the 2010 Deepwater Horizon explosion that transformed the oil industry and life along the US Gulf Coast.

Chief Petty Officer Bobby Nash told The Associated Press that the search was ended at about 5:25 p.m.

Coast Guard officials said in a news release Saturday that helicopters were searching for the missing workers from the air, while a cutter searched the sea.

The blaze, which started Friday while workers were using a torch to cut an oil line, severely burned at least four other Filipino workers. Their burns were not as extensive as initially reported, said Leslie Hoffman, a spokeswoman for Black Elk Energy, which owned the platform.

Officials at Baton Rouge General Medical Center said Saturday that two men remained in critical condition, while another two remained in serious condition. All four, who are being treated in a burn unit, are employees of oilfield contractor Grand Isle Shipyard and are from the Philippines. The hospital said it and Grand Isle Shipyard are trying to reach the men’s families in the Philippines.

Meanwhile, officials said no oil was leaking from the charred platform, a relief for Gulf Coast residents still weary two years after the BP oil spill illustrated the risk that offshore drilling poses to the region’s ecosystem and economy.

It’s unclear whether the missing men worked for a contractor. Grand Isle Shipyard employed 14 of the 22 workers on the platform at the time of the incident, WWL-TV in New Orleans reported. A man who answered the phone at the company’s Galliano, Louisiana office on Saturday said no one was available to comment.

The images Friday were eerily similar to the Deepwater Horizon blaze that killed 11 workers and led to an oil spill that took months to bring under control. The fire came a day after BP PLC agreed to plead guilty to a raft of charges in the 2010 spill and pay a record $4.5 billion in penalties.

There were a few important differences between this latest blaze and the one that touched off the worst offshore spill in US history: Friday’s fire at an oil platform about 25 miles (40 kilometers) southeast of Grand Isle, Louisiana was put out within hours, while the Deepwater Horizon burned for more than a day, collapsed and sank.

The site of Friday’s blaze is a production platform in shallow water, rather than an exploratory drilling rig like the Deepwater Horizon looking for new oil on the seafloor almost a mile (1.6 kilometers) deep.

The depth of the 2010 well blow-out proved to be a major challenge in bringing the disaster under control.

The Black Elk platform is in 56 feet (17 meters) of water - a depth much easier for engineers to manage if a spill had happened.

A sheen of oil about 800 meters long and 180 meters wide was reported on the Gulf surface, but officials believe it came from residual oil on the platform.

“It’s not going to be an uncontrolled discharge from everything we’re getting right now,” Coast Guard Capt. Ed Cubanski said.

Hoffman, the Black Elk Energy spokeswoman, said Saturday that there were still no signs of any leak or spill at the platform site.

BP’s blown-out well spewed millions of liters of oil into the sea, about 80 kilometers southeast of the mouth of the Mississippi River on the east side of the river delta. The crude fouled beaches, marshes and rich seafood grounds.

After Friday’s blaze, 11 people were taken by helicopter to area hospitals or for treatment on shore by emergency medical workers.

The production platform owned by Houston-based Black Elk Energy is on the western side of the Mississippi River delta. The Coast Guard said 24 people were aboard the platform at the time of the fire.

Cubanski said the platform appeared to be structurally sound. He said only about 28 gallons (106 liters) of oil were in the broken line on the platform.

David Smith, a spokesman for the Interior Department’s Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement in Washington, said an environmental enforcement team was dispatched from a Gulf Coast base by helicopter soon after the Coast Guard was notified of the emergency. Smith said the team would scan for any evidence of oil spilling and investigate the cause of the explosion.

Black Elk is an independent oil and gas company. The company’s website says it holds interests in properties in Texas and Louisiana waters, including 854 wells on 155 platforms. With AP


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