Gulf Oil Workers Near Rig Disaster Evacuated as a Precaution

HOUMA, Louisiana, April 26, 2010 (ENS) – While remotely operated vehicles on the floor of the Gulf of Mexico try to stop oil leaking from a well left open by an explosion and fire on the Deepwater Horizon last week, on the surface, workers on another rig were evacuated today.

The workers were taken off the rig the Ocean Endeavor from an “abundance of caution,” an official with the federal Minerals Management Service, told reporters.

Lars Herbst, the MMS Gulf regional director said, “While we have a strong regulatory program focused on the safety of personnel and the environment, we want to leave no stone unturned to prevent an accident of this magnitude from ever happening again.”

Doug Helton, operations coordinator for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Office of Response and Restoration, said an incident where oil is escaping at its source on the sea floor instead of from a ship is very rare. He said it has been decades since a spill like this has occurred.

Some of the more than 1,000 people who are responding to the Deepwater Horizon explosion, fire and oil spill (Photo courtesy U.S. Coast Guard)

Oil has been spewing from the open wellhead at the rate of about 1,000 barrels per day since Thursday when the Deepwater Horizon, still ablaze, capsized and sank to the seafloor a mile below the surface. The wrecked rig is now located on the sea floor about 1,500 feet northwest of the well center and away from any subsea pipelines.

By Monday afternoon, authorities said the oil slick covered an area of 48 miles by 39 miles, about 1,870 square miles, located 30 miles off the coast of Venice, Louisiana. No oil has yet reached shore and officials say it will at least three days before any of the oil is expected on land.

Weather forecasts from NOAA’s National Weather service indicate winds from the north, which helps keep oil away from shoreline, until Wednesday with a shift to the southeast thereafter.

The ROVs are being used to try and trigger the blowout preventer, a series of valves that sits at the wellhead, and other rigs are en route in case relief wells are needed. But drilling relief wells, which could then be plugged to contain the oil could take months, according to NOAA.

An underwater oil collection device that would trap escaping oil near the seafloor and funnel it for collection is being designed and fabricated. Collection devices, also called domes, have been used successfully in shallower water but never at this depth of about 5,000 feet.

At the surface, aircraft applied more oil dispersant to the slick today, but 15 to 20 knot winds and four to six foot seas made oil recovery on the surface more difficult.

Part of the 1,870 square mile oil slick in the Gulf of Mexico from the wreck of the Deepwater Horizon (Photo courtesy U.S. Coast Guard)

Teams are assessing what it will take to protect coastal resources if the oil does come ashore – thousands of feet of oil containment and deflection boom are ready to deploy.

On Sunday, an aircrew from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service sighted five small whales during an overflight of the oil spill.

Aerial observers did not see whales or dolphins today, but marine mammal issues are a concern for the Unified Command. The use of dispersants has been adjusted to avoid areas where whales have been spotted.

NOAA said this year has seen a marked increase in natural strandings of marine mammals in the Gulf of Mexico, which will make oil impacts more difficult to assess.

Officials from Transocean Ltd, the rig’s owner; BP, which contracted the rig; the U.S. Coast Guard and Minerals Management Service still have not determined what caused Tuesday’s explosion aboard the Deepwater Horizon.

Transocean said today that the Deepwater Horizon is insured for total loss coverage and for wreck removal, to the extent removal can be carried out and is required. The total insured value of the rig is $560 million.

Transocean is a Swiss company and the world’s largest offshore drilling contractor. The company said today it is committing all necessary resources to support ongoing efforts to stop the flow of hydrocarbons from the well.

Today, Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal issued an Executive Order calling for the flags at all state buildings to be flown at half-staff in honor the of the 11 crewmembers who lost their lives in the oil rig explosion.

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