Gulf Rocked by Second Explosion

By Alex Haro

Another drilling-related explosion rocked the Gulf of Mexico early Thursday morning, sending the crew of Mariner Energy's Vermillion Block 380 into the water and igniting a massive fire. Thirteen workers were rescued from the Gulf by an oil industry vessel after donning Gumby suits, bright colored survival suits that aid in flotation. The fire that engulfed the platform was quickly extinguished, all workers were accounted for, and no serious injuries were sustained. The explosion occurred about 200 miles west of the Deepwater Horizon catastrophe, which saw anywhere from 5 to 9 million barrels of crude spill into the fragile waters off the coast of Louisiana.

The cause of the fire is not yet known, but all seven production wells that were active on the Vermillion Block 380 platform were shut down automatically by the same piece of equipment that failed in the BP disaster, the blow-out preventer. Workers initially told rescuers that a thin sheen of oil approximately a mile long and a hundred feet wide was visible, but Coast Guard Commander Cheri Ben-Iesau said its crews were unable to confirm that information.

After the massive impact of the Deepwater Horizon spill in the Gulf of Mexico, public awareness surrounding the environmental impact of off-shore drilling has skyrocketed, prompting a moratorium on all offshore drilling and tens of thousands of volunteers to emerge from all over the world. Now that BP has cut off the flow of oil that poured unchecked into the Gulf for three months, the Obama administration has been facing intense political pressure to lift the moratorium and let Big Oil get back to work. But with this recent incident, more doubts surrounding that decision are bound to occur. Robert Gibbs, the White House spokesman, said the Mariner explosion shouldn't affect a decision on the ban, and he would not tie it to BP's well. "At this point, based on what we know, I don't want to marry those two up," Gibbs said.

While it's difficult for the layperson not to draw comparisons between the Vermillion Block 380 and the Deepwater Horizon, the two rigs operated on completely different levels. While the Horizon was a deepwater rig, operating at depths of around 5,000 feet, the Vermillion was in water about 350 feet deep.  BP's equipment was an actual drilling rig, and the Vermillion is a drilling platform, which is usually much more stable than a drilling rig.

The explosion on the Vermillion Block 380 serves as another reminder of the intrinsic danger of offshore oil exploration, and raises the question yet again on whether or not oil is really the answer. Michael Brune, Executive Director of the Sierra Club said, "The BP disaster was supposed to be the wake up call, but we hit the snooze button. Today the alarm went off again."