[Update: The Associated Press is now reporting that 11 people have been hospitalized, two remain missing and the fire has been extinguished aboard the stricken rig.]
VENICE, La. (AP) — An explosion and fire ripped through a Gulf oil platform Friday as workers used a cutting torch, sending four people to a hospital with burns and leaving two missing in waters off Louisiana.
Coast Guard Capt. Ed Cubanski told a news conference in New Orleans the well was not producing at the time and no oil was leaking. A small amount of oil spilled from the rig when workers using a torch cut into a 75-foot-long, 3-inch-wide line on the platform. Cubanski said a sheen one-half mile long and 200 yards wide was reported in the area.
"It's not going to be an uncontrolled discharge from everything we're getting right now," Cubanski said.
The fire had since been extinguished, said Coast Guard spokesman Drake Fore. He said Coast Guard aircraft and boats were searching for two missing people. Nobody was believed killed in the fire.
Taslin Alfonzo, spokeswoman for West Jefferson Medical Center in suburban New Orleans, said four injured workers were brought to the hospital in critical condition with second- and third-degree burns over much of their bodies. Three arrived by helicopter at 9:55 a.m. and one by helicopter at 10:10 CST.
Two were sent by ambulance to the Baton Rouge Burn Center. Two others were to be sent later. She could not release identities or any other information.
The production platform owned by Black Elk Energy is about 25 miles southeast of Grand Isle, La. The Coast Guard said 26 people were aboard the platform at the time of the explosion.
The platform is for oil production from an established well, unlike the Deepwater Horizon rig, which was drilling an exploratory well for oil giant BP in mile-deep water when it blew up and triggered a massive oil spill in 2010. That site is well to the east of Friday's explosion.
Cubanski said the platform appeared to be structurally sound. After the April 2010 explosion on the Deepwater Horizon, that rig burned for about 36 hours before suffering structural collapse and sinking to the Gulf floor.
The Black Elk platform is in 56 feet of water. Cubanski said 28 gallons of oil were in the broken line.
The Coast Guard got the call about the fire at 8:42 a.m. CST.
A federal official in Washington said a team of environmental enforcement inspectors was flying to the scene.
David Smith, a spokesman for the Interior Department's Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement, said the team was dispatched from a Gulf Coast base by helicopter soon after the Coast Guard was notified of the emergency. Smith said the team would scan for any evidence of oil spilling and investigate the cause of the explosion.
Black Elk is an independent oil and gas company headquartered in Houston, Texas.
The company's website says it holds interests in properties in Texas and Louisiana waters, including 854 wells on 155 platforms.
MAY 24 Blogger Robert Mann posts this entry about the Baton Rouge Chamber's recent report on Louisiana's higher education system. It's critical to economic development, and yet our system is facing a "funding crisis" with no way to resolve it, the report says. The Chamber says control of tuition and fees must be returned to the higher ed governing boards.
MAY 24 Here's a NBC33 story about Tyrann Mathieu. He has signed with the Arizona Cardinals, inking a $3 million, four-year deal. He gets a signing bonus of $265K, but gets another, larger bonus if he doesn't get cut from the team for doing drugs. The deal reportedly includes mandatory tests and meetings for the player.
MAY 24 Jarvis DeBerry posts here about the redonkulus rhetoric that would have us believe NOLA is a safe city with a murder problem. Maybe the city's crime stats don't compare with its murder stats because you can't manipulate a murder, he says: a dead body's a dead body. It just doesn't make sense, he says, and his readers agree: a poll asks if they believe the city is safe, and more than 90 percent say no.
MAY 24 Jindal administration officials announced Thursday that the privatization of public health care is going to cost a lot more than they budgeted for, the Advocate reports here. "I'm so surprised," said no one. Anywhere. The cost they're projecting now is more than $1 billion - a lot more than the $626 million budgeted for it. And, it's more than it cost the state to operate those hospitals. So why are we doing this again?
MAY 24 Blogger CB Forgotston ridicules the recent PR campaign by the state GOP in the wake of a legislative auditor's request to both major parties. The GOP (apparently unaware that the Dems got the same request) started yammering about being targeted because it had "killed" a tax increase. CB finds that laughable, but it's also pretty funny that the GOP was comparing this episode to the IRS scandal (Because the President has so much to do with our state auditor. Right?).
MAY 24 Politico details some recent fund-raising efforts by Sen. David Vitter, which have raised the question of his future political plans. This time, it is a $5,000 per head "bayou weekend" that includes "Cajun cooking" and an all-caps "alligator hunt," the story reports. Funds raised go to a super PAC that can spend money to support Vitter in federal or state races, the story points out.
MAY 24 The pink building on Royal in the quarter was sold at a sheriff's sale Thursday, this Picayune story reports. An injunction that would have halted the sale wasn't enforced because the family failed to post a $150,000 bond, the story reports. So the owner of the mortgages on the building bought it, for nearly $7 million. Now the feuding family will have to negotiate with that company to get a lease on the building that has housed their business for close to 60 years.
MAY 23 This post in Louisiana Voice tells us about a bill by a Winnsboro lege that would require all public high school students to take at least one Course Choice online class in order to graduate. (What?) Blogger Tom Aswell says it's a monument to "waste and corruption," especially in light of the problems he's exposed with the program in recent weeks. Idaho had a similar program, but voters removed it by a 2-1 margin, Aswell says.
There will soon be a whole lot of shakin’ going on at Benny’s Sportshack Supplement Depot, a new concept by Opelousas native Benny Nele. Located at 2002 Johnston St., the supplement shop, smoothie bar and café, featuring hot off the press paninis and wraps, plans to open in late May.
Philip deMahy Sr., a once respected New Iberia ad exec, was sentenced May 2 to spend the next two years (he faced up to 100 years) in a state penitentiary after state and federal investigators found dozens of images depicting children engaged in lewd sexual acts on his personal computer.