NEW ORLEANS, Louisiana, July 24, 2013 (ENS) – A gas well fire in the Gulf of Mexico that started Tuesday night after the operator failed to keep control of the well is still burning out of control, according to U.S. Coast Guard officials and the companies involved. Efforts continue to regain control of the well and extinguish the fire.

Walter Oil and Gas Corporation lost control of Well A-3 at 8:45 am Tuesday on an unmanned platform at South Timbalier Block 220.

The company was doing completion work on a sidetrack well to prepare for production when the blowout occurred. A sidetrack well uses the same bore hole as the original well but spreads to a new location at the same depth. This well is located in 154 feet of water and the wellhead is above the surface of the ocean, according to Walter Oil and Gas.

burning rig

Fire engulfs the Hercules Offshore rig in the Gulf of Mexico, July 24, 2013 (Photo by BSEE)

Late Tuesday evening, the natural gas flowing from the well ignited and the flames spread to the rig.

As the rig fire continues, the beams supporting the derrick and rig floor have folded and have collapsed over the rig structure. A firefighting vessel with water and foam capabilities is on the scene.

The Houston-based company said in a statement that its “first and foremost concern is for the safety of all personnel.”

All 44 personnel on board were safely evacuated and transported to a secure location Tuesday afternoon. “No injuries have been reported. No oil has been released,” the company said.

The rig is owned by Hercules Offshore and is operating for Walter Oil and Gas about 42 miles southwest of Grand Isle, Louisiana, the company says. The Coast Guard gives the location of the burning well as 55 miles offshore Louisiana.

“Hercules and Walter are working together to mobilize the necessary resources to regain control of the well and minimize any potential impact on the environment,” the company said in a statement.

Wild Well Control Inc. was hired to try to control the well but could not get close enough to it to achieve control before the fire began late Tuesday.

The Coast Guard and the U.S. Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement, BSEE, have stood up a Command Center to respond to the event, and personnel from both agencies are overseeing the response effort to secure the natural gas well and extinguish the fire.

Both BSEE and Coast Guard conducted overflights this morning to assess the situation. BSEE inspectors reported a cloud of natural gas above the rig and a light sheen on the water half a mile by 50 feet in area.

After a visual flyover inspection today Hercules Offshore officials said the jackup rig is still standing, however “it appears to have sustained extensive damage to the derrick package as a result of the continuing fire that ignited yesterday evening. The visual inspection revealed debris near the well site.”

Under BSEE’s direction, Walter Oil and Gas has begun preparations to move a jack-up rig on location to potentially drill a relief well.

BSEE is reviewing and approving all plans and procedures to stop the flow of gas and secure the well.

“BSEE’s efforts today are focused on bringing this loss of well control event to a safe resolution,” Lars Herbst, BSEE’s Gulf of Mexico regional director, told the New Orleans “Times Picayune” newspaper Tuesday afternoon. “Offshore oil and gas operators need to reaffirm their aggressive approach to the safety of well operations in light of this event and other recent well control events.”

Jefferson Parish officials are keeping a close eye on the situation because the Grand Isle Tarpon Rodeo starts Thursday. The event is expected to draw more than 15,000 sport and recreational fishers and tourists to Grand Isle.

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