US Govt: Flash Fire Aboard GOM Oil Platform

HOUSTON (Dow Jones Newswires), Sep. 9, 2010

A flash fire occurred aboard a Mariner Energy Inc. (ME) oil and gas platform in the U.S. Gulf of Mexico on Thursday, U.S. regulators said.

The Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, Regulation and Enforcement said the fire was immediately extinguished and no pollution was reported. The platform sits atop permanently plugged wells, and is located in shallow waters about 109 miles south of Lafayette, La in South Marsh Block 136.

Mariner Energy spokesman Patrick Cassidy said the platform hadn't seen any production of fossil fuels since before 2006. "It was a very minor fire," Cassidy said.

The fire occurred during the decommissioning of an out-of-service pipeline; a work crew was on the platform, but no one was evacuated, the bureau said. Cassidy said that a drip pan used to collect residual fluids caught fire during a cutting operation, but the fire was "quickly put out."

The agency said its inspectors are heading to the platform to investigate the incident. The platform, installed in 1978, is usually unmanned, according to bureau data.

The incident comes a week after a fire engulfed another Mariner Energy platform in the Gulf. That accident sent 13 workers tumbling into the sea, but there were no casualties and no oil was spilled.

Nevertheless, the incident heightened pressure on the energy industry, which is fighting efforts to tighten regulation following the Deepwater Horizon accident that unleashed the biggest offshore oil spill in U.S. history.

There are usually more than 100 fires every year in the offshore Gulf of Mexico, most of them small, according to the Bureau of Ocean Energy. The agency reported 133 fires or explosions in the region in 2009. Some 130 of those were deemed "incidental," each accounting for, at most, $25,000 in damages; three were classified as "minor," causing damages of between $25,000 and $1 million.

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