Editorial: Grief in the Gulf — Recent well blowouts show offshore precautions aren’t strong enough
by The Anniston Star Editorial Board
Jul 26, 2013 | 2853 views |  0 comments | 23 23 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Here we go again. A drilling rig is burning off the Louisiana coast.

On Wednesday, a fire broke out on the rig that Hercules Offshore Inc. was operating for Walters Oil & Gas, an exploration production company. This blowout is quite different from the BP explosion that polluted so much of the Gulf Coast.

First, and perhaps most important, all 44 rig workers were evacuated safely. Also, this blowout involves a gas well, not oil as was the case with BP.

The pollution threat posed by a natural gas well explosion is far less than one involving oil. Although a light sheen has appeared around the well, there is little crude oil involved. The natural gas from the well is burning off. If some of the gas did escape the fire, it is unlikely to reach shallower waters in concentrations high enough to cause health problems or environmental damage.

The question now is how to stop the gas and put out the fire.

It will be a complicated task and might take weeks. There is talk of drilling a relief well to divert the gas so the fire can be extinguished. Then there is the matter of cleanup — how much debris is there and how can it be removed?

The questions later will be, why did it happen? What caused the gas to spew freely and then ignite?

This is the second blowout off the Louisiana coast this month, which calls into questions the safety precautions being taken, precautions which after the BP spill were reportedly reviewed and updated.

For Alabamians, it has raised other questions — how safe are the rigs off our coast, rigs whose lights twinkle out in the Gulf as night falls, lights you can see from the beach? And, finally, what have we learned from the BP disaster?

After BP, there was a general consensus that drilling for oil and gas in the Gulf of Mexico was dangerous and could have serious consequences. There also was a general consensus that existing rules and regulations should be vigorously enforced.

Two blowouts in one month suggest that what has been done to protect the public and the environment falls short of vigorous enforcement.

State and federal regulators, along with Hercules Offshore Inc., have questions they must answer.
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