Gulf oil platform explodes, burning off LA coast

NEW ORLEANS - (AP) - An oil platform exploded and burned off theLouisiana coast Thursday, the second such disaster in the Gulf ofMexico in less than five months. This time, the Coast Guard saidthere was no leak, and no one was killed. The Coast Guard initially reported that an oil sheen a mile longand 100 feet wide had begun to spread from the site of the blast,about 200 miles west of the source of BP's massive spill. But hourslater, Coast Guard Cmdr. Cheri Ben-Iesau said crews were unable tofind any spill. The company that owns the platform, Houston-based MarinerEnergy, did not know what caused the explosion. Mariner officials said there were seven active production wellson the platform, and they were shut down shortly before the firebroke out. Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal said the company told him the firebegan in 100 barrels of light oil condensate, but officials did notknow yet what sparked the flames. The Coast Guard said Mariner Energy reported the oil sheen. In apublic statement, the company said an initial flyover did not showany oil. Photos from the scene showed at least five ships floating nearthe platform. Three of them were shooting great plumes of wateronto the machinery. Light smoke could be seen drifting across thedeep blue waters of the gulf. By late afternoon, the fire on the platform was out. The platform is in about 340 feet of water and about 100 milessouth of Louisiana's Vermilion Bay. Its location is consideredshallow water, much less than the approximately 5,000 feet whereBP's well spewed oil and gas for three months after the April rigexplosion that killed 11 workers. Responding to any oil spill in shallow water would be mucheasier than in deep water, where crews depend on remote-operatedvehicles to access equipment on the sea floor. A Homeland Security update obtained by The Associated Press saidthe platform was producing 58,800 gallons of oil and 900,000 cubicfeet of gas per day. The platform can store 4,200 gallons of oil. White House press secretary Robert Gibbs said the administrationhas "response assets ready for deployment should we receivereports of pollution in the water." All 13 of the platform's crew members were rescued from thewater. They were found huddled together in insulated survivaloutfits called "Gumby suits" for their resemblance to the cartooncharacter.

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