The explosion on a production platform Thursday in the Gulf of Mexico has intensified an already spirited national debate about offshore oil and gas development.
Thirteen workers were rescued from the water after evacuating a fiery production platform in the Gulf of Mexico, 100 miles off the Coast of Louisiana. No injuries were reported among the thirteen workers and the owner of the platform, Houston-based Mariner Energy, Inc. (NYSE:ME) says the automated shutoff equipment on the Vermillion 380 platform safely turned off the flow of oil and gas from the platform's seven producing wells "before the fire occurred and the crew evacuated."
Although few similarities can be drawn between the BP/Deepwater Horizon incident that poured oil into the Gulf of Mexico all summer and the fire Thursday on a Mariner Energy oil and gas production platform, the latest incident is raising the hackles of groups on both sides of the offshore drilling debate.
While opponents of offshore oil and gas development say the incident is just one more bit of evidence that the practice of exploring and developing oil and gas resources off the U.S. coast is dangerous and expensive, proponents argue that small fires like those that occurred Thursday happen all the time and that the incident should do nothing to slow the administration's plans of lifting the moratorium on new offshore drilling in the U.S.
"Another reminder that drilling accidents happen all too frequently."
Unlike the BP oil spill, which was caused by an explosion and fire on a deepwater exploratory drilling rig with a wellhead one mile below the surface, the Vermillion 380 platform was a production platform operating in just 340 feet of water. And although the Mariner Energy platform was not covered under the current six month moratorium put on deepwater drilling by the Obama administration, critics of offshore drilling used the opportunity to make their case that offshore oil and gas exploration and production is dangerous and becoming increasingly so.
And Chairman of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, U.S. Rep. Henry A. Waxman (D-Calif.), called on the administration “to immediately redouble safety reviews of all offshore drilling and platform operations in the gulf.”
In California, where a new well hasn't been drilled since a 1969 blowout off the coast of Santa Barbara led to the nation's now third-largest oil spill, lawmakers also seized on today's incident to bolster their case against drilling any new wells.
“This should serve to remind us all why the State of California has not allowed any new drilling in state waters for the last 41 years," said California Assemblymember Pedro Nava (D-Santa Barbara), who has led the opposition to a proposal by Plains Exploration and Production Company to drill for oil 3 miles off the coast of Santa Barbara.
Environmental groups echoed the sentiment of many lawmakers, arguing that both regulation and forward thinking are needed.
Thursday’s explosion “underscores the need for the U.S. to maintain its moratorium,” said Jacqueline Savitz, senior campaign director for Washinton, D.C.-based Oceana, in a statement Thursday. "It’s another reminder that drilling accidents happen all too frequently," said Savitz.
Sierra Club executive director Michael Brune said that as the oil industry continues to rail against regulation, "it's become all too clear that the current approach to offshore drilling is simply too dangerous."
"Instead of pursuing more dangerous, dirty, outdated offshore drilling, we could be investing in clean energy and a 21st century transportation system that would create good, safe jobs and infuse new life into our economy," added Brune in a statement. Continued...