US & Canada

Two missing in US Gulf of Mexico oil rig fire

Black Elk oil rig fire, Gulf of Mexico 16 November 2012
The blaze on the Black Elk Energy-owned rig has now been put out

Two people are missing and four have been injured by a fire on a shallow-bed oil rig in the Gulf of Mexico, off the Louisiana coast, officials say.

The four people who were hurt were in critical condition in hospital, a spokeswoman said. Earlier, the US Coast Guard said two people had died.

The oil production platform is owned by Black Elk Energy and is about 25 miles (40km) south-east of Grand Isle.

The fire, which started before 09:00 local time (15:00 GMT), is now out.

The Coast Guard said 24 people were on the platform when the fire broke out. Eleven people were taken by helicopter to hospitals or for treatment on shore by emergency medical workers.

In a news briefing in New Orleans, Coast Guard Captain Ed Cubanski said the rig was not producing oil when the fire started and no oil had leaked, playing down fears of an environmental disaster.

The fire began when rig workers cut one of the platform's lines with a torch.

A sheen of oil about a half-mile (0.8km) long and 0.28km wide was reported on the Gulf surface, but officials believe it came from residual oil on the platform.

"It's not going to be an uncontrolled discharge from everything we're getting right now," Captain Cubanski said.

The US Coast Guard deployed boats and aircraft to the rig to respond to the fire, a spokesman told the BBC, and a search is under way for the missing people.

Safety inspections

West Jefferson Medical Center spokeswoman Taslin Alfonzo said the four patients admitted to the hospital had second and third-degree burns over much of their bodies.

Two patients had been sent on to the Baton Rouge Burn Center, and the two others would be moved there later.

Another hospital reported it was treating two additional patients in a good condition, while a third said it was treating several, none in critical condition.

The Black Elk rig was drawing on an established well, unlike the Deepwater Horizon rig, which exploded in 2010 causing a huge leak. That platform was drilling an exploratory well in deep water.

Nicholas Pardi, of the US Department of the Interior said in a statement that safety inspectors were on their way to the facility.

The fire comes one day after US Attorney General Eric Holder announced that oil giant BP would pay a record criminal fine of $4.5bn (£2.8bn) over to the 2010 Deepwater Horizon disaster.

The settlement is bigger than the largest previous corporate criminal penalty assessed by the Department of Justice, the $1.2bn fine imposed on drug maker Pfizer in 2009.

BP has also reached a $7.8bn settlement with the Plaintiffs' Steering Committee, a group of lawyers representing victims of the spill.

The 2010 Deepwater Horizon disaster killed 11 workers and released millions of barrels of crude into the Gulf of Mexico over 87 days.

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