Oil rig explosion in Gulf leaves 11 missing, 4 critically injured

Coast Guard personnel continued to search the waters of the Gulf of Mexico on Thursday, following an oil rig explosion late Wednesday that sent nearly 100 workers fleeing from the burning rig, and left 11 missing. Many survivors had to dive from the rig’s platform, 75 feet in the air, to the ocean below to escape the flames. Seventeen workers were injured, four critically. The platform continues to burn, and to list into the sea, as firefighters work to control the blaze that is being fueled by raw crude oil from the rig’s well.

The rig, known as the Deepwater Horizon, was owned by Transocean Ltd., the world’s largest drilling contractor. It is being operated for oil company BP PLC. ABC News reports that Transocean’s vice president, Adrian Rose, told the Associated Press that the explosion seemed to be the result of a “blowout,” which is when natural gas or oil forces its way up a well pipe.

The Associated Press also reported today that a lawsuit has been filed on behalf of a Mississippi man who is still missing, naming both Transocean and BP as defendants, claiming they were negligent in protecting the oil platform’s workers.

BP has come under fire recently for safety issues. Five years ago, its refinery in Texas City, Texas, suffered an explosion that killed 15 people. Transocean, too, has a few black marks on its history, directly related to the Deepwater Horizon rig, including a flooding incident in 2008 and a small fire in 2005. However, the Wall Street Journal notes that the Deepwater Horizon platform was also named among five of Transocean’s ships recently presented with an award for safety by the U.S. Minerals Management Services.

In the last 9 years, 69 people have been killed and 1,349 injured in oil rig accidents just in the Gulf of Mexico. According to the federal Minerals Management Service, there have been 858 fires and explosions in the Gulf during that same period of time.

Firefighters are dousing the blaze with water, but fire and smoke continue to billow into the sky. An investigation into the explosion is ongoing, but no specific details are yet known.

This is the second fuel-related disaster in as many weeks, following on the heels of the Massey Engery coal mine explosion that killed 29 workers in West Virgina on April 5.