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Louisiana Oil Rig Explosion Puts Spotlight on Offshore Drilling Risks

Apr 22, 2010 | Parker Waichman LLP

As rescue crews continue to search the Gulf of Mexico for 11 workers missing since Tuesday night's  explosion on the Deepwater Horizon oil rig, the incident has highlighted the dangers of offshore drilling and energy exploration.

According to the Associated Press, if the missing are not found alive, the Deepwater Horizon oil rig explosion would become one of the nation’s deadliest offshore drilling accidents of the past half-century. There have been 69 offshore deaths, 1,349 injuries and 858 fires and explosions in the Gulf of Mexico since 2001.

According to a Wall Street Journal report, the safety record of BP PLC, which was leasing the rig,  was already under scrutiny even before this week’s tragedy. Last year, it was fined $87 million by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) failing to correct safety violations at the Texas City refinery. In March 2005, an explosion and fire at Texas City killed 15 workers.

The fine was the largest in OSHA’s history, the Journal said. OSHA said BP hadn’t made safety improvements promised in a settlement reached with safety inspectors in September 2005. According to The Wall Street Journal, an OSHA official said last year that BP still had a “serious systemic safety problem,” both at Texas City and across the company.

Just last month, OSHA fined BP $3 million for safety problems at its refinery in Toledo, Ohio, the Journal said.

The explosion on Deepwater Horizon occurred at 10:00 p.m. local time Tuesday night, about 41 miles off the coast of Louisiana. The rig is owned and operated by Transocean Ltd. At the time of the blast, 126 workers were stationed there.

According to the Associated Press, the number of injured is now at 17, with four in critical condition. Injuries included burns, broken legs and smoke inhalation.

Two Coast Guard cutters have been searching for the missing around the clock, the Associated Press said. An air search had to be called off last night, but resumed this morning.

A fire ignited by the explosion is still burning, and authorities do not know how long it might be before it is extinguished. The cause of the blast is unknown, but Transocean said it appeared to be the result of a blowout, in which natural gas or oil forces its way up a well pipe and smashes the equipment.



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