Transocean rig sinks in Gulf of Mexico
The semisubmersible drilling rig Deepwater Horizon sank in the Gulf of Mexico 130 miles southeast of New Orleans yesterday, raising the spectre of a major oil spill and a possible environmental catastrophe.
The deepwater well being drilled by Deepwater Horizon is understood to be a new one, and is said to have the potential of leaking 336,000 gallons of crude oil per day unless it is capped. The environmental disaster would be most pronounced if this crude oil were to reach the Louisiana coast, which is only 50 miles away.
The fate of the 11 oil workers missing since the explosion and ensuing fire on Tuesday night remained unknown at press time. If the workers were confirmed dead, the toll would be the biggest in a US offshore rig explosion in 42 years.
Early reports quoting a senior executive from Deepwater Horizon"s owner Transocean said that the missing workers may have been ?near the blast and unable to escape?.
However, US Coast Guard Senior Petty Officer Mike O"Berry told Lloyd"s List late last night that the search for the missing workers had not been abandoned, and one USCG cutter and one helicopter were still combing the area.
?As long as the Coast Guard believes there is a probability [of finding the survivors] we intend to continue the search, and we still believe this probability warrants searching on,? Mr O"Berry said.
More than 2,000 square miles had already been covered in the search for survivors, and water and air temperatures along with calm seas were positive factors, another USCG spokeswoman said.
Transocean said in a statement immediately after the sinking late yesterday morning: ?The combined response team was not able to stem the flow of hydrocarbons prior to the rig sinking, and we are working closely with [lease operator] BP Exploration & Production and the USCG to determine the impact from the sinking of the rig and the plans going forward. The USCG has plans in place to mitigate any environmental impact from this situation.?
Mr O"Berry did not have an update on the amount of crude oil leaking from the well. Local reports attributed to other USCG officials said the well could spill crude oil at the rate of 336,000 gallons a day.
A ?rainbow? sheen of one mile by five miles was spotted. Preliminary USCG statements were unclear whether this spill contained a substantial quantity of crude oil, but a vessel was understood to be checking what was actually going on underwater.
Deepwater Horizon also had 700,000 gallons of diesel on board, but this was said to be likely to evaporate if not consumed by the fire.
The sinking of Deepwater Horizon finally extinguished a spectacular fire that was raging since the explosion in the late hours of Tuesday.
BP said in a statement that it has initiated a plan for the drilling of a relief well, if required. A nearby drilling rig will be used to drill the well, and this rig is available to begin activity immediately, BP said.
BP also mobilised four aircraft that can spread chemicals to break up the oil and 32 vessels, including a big storage barge, which can suck more than 171,000 barrels of oil a day from the surface.
?We are determined to do everything in our power to contain this oil spill and resolve the situation as rapidly, safely and effectively as possible,? said BP group chief executive Tony Hayward.
According to a report from the Associated Press, the Deepwater Horizon was understood to have drilled the well to its final depth, more than 18,000 ft, and the crew was said to be cementing the steel casing at the time of the explosion.
Separately, the family of a missing roustabout sued Transocean and BP in federal court in New Orleans yesterday, alleging negligence. The lawsuit alleged that some workers were thrown overboard and others were killed on deck.
According to experts, if the 11 missing workers are given up as dead, it would amount to the worst US offshore rig explosion since 1968, when 11 died and 20 were injured at a platform owned by Gulf Oil.
The Deepwater Horizon fire came just a day after Transocean started trading shares on the SIX Swiss Exchange as a secondary listing, becoming one of the largest companies on the exchange. The company now faces having to replace the rig, which could cost up to $500m at today"s newbuilding prices.