Gas no longer flowing, fire extinguished at blown-out well - FOX 8 WVUE New Orleans News, Weather, Sports, Social

Gas no longer flowing, fire extinguished at blown-out well

New Orleans (AP) - An official with the company that owns a Gulf of Mexico drilling rig that caught fire after a natural gas blowout said Thursday that the rig appears stable now that the fire is out.
    
He also said there was no sign of an oil sheen on the water during a Thursday morning fly-over.
    
Jim Noe, of Hercules Offshore Inc., said the well became plugged with sand and sediment, essentially snuffing itself out, late Wednesday. Federal officials confirmed the gas flow had stopped Thursday morning. The fire was reported out hours later.
    
Now officials are concentrating on efforts to permanently plug the well and find out why it blew wild. The blowout occurred Tuesday about 55 miles off the Louisiana coast at a well operated by Walter Oil & Gas.
    
Experts have said the environmental impact was expected to be limited, even before the well was blocked, and all 44 workers who had been on the rig were safely evacuated. But the well must still be secured to ensure it doesn't start leaking again, and exactly how that would be done was not immediately clear.
    
Some of the decisions may depend on what type of material plugged the well, said Alex Kolker, an environmental scientist with Tulane University.
    
"Some materials are certainly going to hold up better than others," Kolker said. "So if it's heavy rock or it's clay, that's going to be less permeable. But if it's sand, and there's a lot of force, then maybe you can bubble the sands out of the way. I think it really depends on the materials."
    
The rig is a jackup rig with four legs extending to the ocean floor to hold it up. Parts of the rig had collapsed as it burned Wednesday, but the structure remained intact.
    
Because the well involved is a natural gas well and not an oil well, experts said the pollution threats were far less than those posed by some previous accidents.
    
Federal inspectors said a light sheen was spotted around the rig Wednesday evening but - like one spotted shortly after the blowout began Tuesday - it quickly dissipated.
    
Gas wells often also have oil or other hydrocarbons as well as natural gas. Officials and scientists agree the latest mishap should not be nearly as damaging as the BP oil spill, also in the Gulf of Mexico, that sent crude oil oozing ashore in 2010.
    
Tuesday's blowout occurred at a drilling rig next to a natural gas platform that wasn't producing gas at the time. The rig was completing a "sidetrack well," which drills into the same well hole under the platform. Such wells are used to remedy an obstruction or to access a different part of the gas reserve.
    
The cause of the blowout was under investigation, one being overseen by the BSEE. Air and water travel safety restrictions remained in effect in the area until the next steps could be determined.
 

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