A natural gas drilling rig owned by Walter Oil & Gas caught fire Tuesday night and partially collapsed off the Louisiana coast, a few hours after a blowout in the well forced the evacuation of 44 workers.
The Hercules Offshore rig, situated in 154 feet of water about 55 miles off the coast of Grand Isle, continues to spew tons of natural gas into the Gulf.
The U.S. Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement (BSEE) reported that the beams supporting the derrick and rig floor on the Hercules Offshore rig had caved in and fallen over the rig structure. Nobody was onboard the rig when it caught fire, and no one was injured when the well erupted Tuesday morning.
A third firefighting vessel was making its way to the smoking rig Wednesday morning.
Meanwhile, BSEE regulators told Walter Oil & Gas to prepare to move a second “jackup” rig to the scene. Unlike BP’s floating Deepwater Horizon rig, which exploded and sank in April 2010 after its well blew out, jackup rigs have legs that reach to the sea floor and can be extended to move the hull up and down.
According to the Wall Street Journal, “Walter Oil & Gas Corp., the owner of the well, initially said it appeared that some of the shear rams on the rig’s blowout preventer failed to close and seal off the well.”
Walter Oil & Gas later said that it would take some time before investigators understood what caused the well to blow out and why natural gas continues to spew from the damaged well.
Oil and gas drilling wells are fitted with blowout preventers (BOPs) that are supposed to kill the flow of oil or gas from the top. However, as the Deepwater Horizon disaster proved, oil companies don’t always spend the time and money to ensure the BOP devices, the last line of defense against the potentially disastrous effects of a blowout, work properly.
Various news outlets reported that Walter could be preparing to drill a relief well, which would intersect the original well shaft and allow engineers to plug the well. This is the strategy BP used to kill the Macondo well after its attempts to stop the well at the surface failed.
Earlier in July, another natural gas well owned by Talos Energy, just a few miles from the Hercules Offshore rig, left an oily sheen that stretched for several miles across the water. Talso said that it was in the process of permanently plugging the well when the leak occurred.