Two missing after oil platform fire in Gulf of Mexico

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KMOV.com

Posted on November 16, 2012 at 5:04 PM

HOUSTON – An official with a Houston-based energy company has recanted comments from their CEO made earlier on Friday that two workers died during a fire on one of their oil platforms off the coast of Louisiana.

An official with Black Elk Energy in Houston said that the search for the two missing workers continues and that they will not declare them dead. The U.S. Coast Guard has not confirmed the deaths either.

In an on-air interview with KHOU News 11, John Hoffman, CEO of Black Elk Energy, said that two workers were dead and one was missing.

Five other workers remained hospitalized as of noon on Friday and two others were released, Hoffman confirmed earlier Friday.

The U.S. Coast Guard said at a press conference at noon that 26 total workers were on the platform Friday morning.

Four left the platform prior to the accident and 11 more after the fire, a spokesman with Coast Guard confirmed. He said nine more were later found and evacuated with two still missing. He could not confirm the two deaths, but said that 11 were sent to various hospitals in Jefferson Parish, La.

At the time of the press conference, it was not clear whether or not if the two workers reported missing were in fact the same two that Hoffman had declared dead since he mentioned only one worker missing at the time.

Jefferson Parish Councilman Chris Roberts told WWL-TV the platform is in shallow water located in West Delta Block 32 in the Gulf of Mexico. The Coast Guard said the location is about 25 miles southeast of Grand Isle, La.

The Coast Guard activated a "command center" to investigate the incident, and two helicopter teams -- one from Mobile, Alabama and the other from New Orleans -- were called in to help with the search. Two small boat stations out of Grand Isle and Venice were also sent to the scene.

“Our focus at this very point is for the well being and the treatment for those injured, and those that were not injured in this to have crisis management counselors available to them,” Hoffman said.

Workers on the platform, which produces oil and natural gas, are contractors and do not work for the company directly, Hoffman said.

At the time of the fire, the workers were cutting a 75-foot pipe that was 3 inches in diameter and contained as much as 75 gallons of product, Hoffman said.

The process for cutting the pipe calls for a “cold-cutting device,” or a non-sparking tool, Hoffman said. However, he confirmed that a cutting torch was used instead, which ignited the vapors in the pipe.

The Coast Guard said that there is a half-mile by 200-yard oil sheen from the platform. The platform was not in production at the time of the fire and remains structurally sound, the spokesman added.

The Marine Safety Unit in Morgan City, La. and the Bureau of Safety and Environment Enforcement will investigate the environment impact of the accident, spokesman for the Coast Guard said.

Check back for updates to this developing story.

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