Yet Another Gulf Oil Spill

After decades without a major oil spill off the Gulf Coast, we’ve now had two this year.  Thankfully, this one looks less severe than the Deepwater Horizon catastrophe.

Another oil rig exploded and caught fire Thursday off the Louisiana coast, spreading a mile-long oil sheen in the Gulf of Mexico west of the site of BP’s massive spill. All 13 crew members were rescued.

Coast Guard Petty Officer Bill Coklough said the sheen, about 100 feet wide, was spotted near the platform. Firefighting vessels were battling the flames.

The company that owns the rig, Houston-based Mariner Energy, did not know what caused the blast, which was reported by a helicopter flying over the area.

Crew members were found floating in the water, huddled together in survival outfits called “gumby suits.”  “These guys had the presence of mind, used their training to get into those gumby suits before they entered the water. It speaks volumes to safety training and the importance of it because, beyond getting off the rig, there’s all the hazards of the water such as hypothermia,” Coast Guard spokesman Chief Petty Officer John Edwards said.


Responding to any oil spill in shallow water would be much easier than in deep water, where crews depend on remote-operated vehicles access equipment on the sea floor.

The rig is a fixed platform that was in production at the time of the fire, according to a homeland security operational update obtained by The Associated Press.

The update said the platform was producing 58,800 gallons of oil and 900,000 cubic feet of gas per day. The platform can store 4,200 gallons of oil.


Federal authorities have cited Mariner Energy and related entities for 10 accidents in the Gulf of Mexico over the last four years, according to safety records from the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, Regulation and Enforcement.  The accidents range from platform fires to pollution spills and a blowout, according to accident-investigation reports from the agency formerly known as the Minerals Management Service.

Aside from snark about the irony that this didn’t happen when oil men Bush and Cheney were at the helm, I’m not sure what to make of this.  Clearly, federal regulation of Gulf oil drilling has been spotty — and that certainly extends to the Bush-Cheney tenure, when this well was drilled.  And some companies seem to have markedly more violations than others, with no meaningful penalty.

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James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm veteran. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.


  1. Bernieyeball says:

    JJ writes  “…I’m not sure what to make of this.”
    Huh!?!  A  measured, restrained remark on this event!
    Who gave you the right to be reasonable anyway?
    Sees All,
    Knows All,
    Doesn’t Think Much of Any Of It.
    (Except rational thought…maybe.)

  2. sam says:

    Hmmm, maybe that moratorium wasn’t such a bad idea after all.

  3. Contracts says:

    First, the moratorium only applies to deep-water operations.  This was a shallow-water rig.  It also only applied to drilling, not production.
    Second, I’m not sure that this is happening more.  This was a local, contained fire and explosion.  Apparently, Mariner had a similar incident in 2007 or 2008 (though that might not have resulted in the evacuation of the rig).  I think that we’ll just hear about each fire for the next few months, because every one can be spun for at least one news cycle as the “next Deepwater Horizon.”  In reality, this explosion cost 0 lives and, so far, appears to have caused no environmental damage (later updates disputed the existence of the “sheen”).

  4. tom p says:

    And some companies seem to have markedly more violations than others, with no meaningful penalty.

    ONly 2 things to say: Thank god no significant oil spilled, and 2, who says the moratorium is a bad idea??? (and yes, I know it did not apply here)