05/31/2011 11:58 am ET Updated Jul 31, 2011

Mariner Energy's Oil Rig Fire In Gulf Due To Corroded Equipment, Generator Failure

The Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, Regulation and Enforcement (BOEMRE) released the findings of its investigation into a fire last September on a oil platform about 100 miles off the coast of Louisiana, an incident reflecting continuing safety problems with offshore oil drilling.

The agency found that the fire was caused by the collapse of a fire tube inside a 30-year-old piece of equipment that had been weakened by heat and corrosion, and that the crew was unable to use a water pump to fight the fire due to the failure of an emergency generator. The agency also uncovered several incidents of non-compliance which could lead to civil penalties for Mariner Energy Inc., the operator of Vermilion 380A.

The fire forced the 13-person crew to abandon the platform and jump into the water. All of them were later rescued and no injuries were reported.

A BOEMRE Accident Investigation Panel concluded that the fire was caused by the collapse of a fire tube located inside of the platform's Heater-Treater. The Heater-Treater, a nearly 30-year-old piece of equipment, used heat from a fire tube as well as chemicals and electricity to separate oily water emulsions into oil and water. The fire tube had been weakened over time due to a variety of factors, including heat, corrosion and pitting.

Investigators also found that after the platform lost primary power because of the fire, the emergency generator failed to start and supply power to the firewater pump, leaving the 13-member crew without a firewater system to aid them in trying to fight the fire. Ultimately, the crew was forced to evacuate the platform, and all were later transported to safety.

"This report reflects a careful and comprehensive investigation by the BOEMRE Accident Investigation Panel, led by the Investigations and Review Unit," said BOEMRE Director Michael R. Bromwich. "The report underscores the need for offshore operators to maintain their equipment consistent with existing standards, to protect the safety of personnel working onboard and to protect the environment."

The investigation included interviews of the Vermilion 380 A crew, review of documentary and physical evidence, examination of equipment onboard the platform, and consultation with an expert in oil production platforms and Heater-Treaters.

In addition to its investigative findings, the BOEMRE panel recommended several Incidents of Non-Compliance be issued to Mariner Energy, Inc., which may be used as the basis for future civil penalties. BOEMRE will now consider the panel's recommendations before taking further action in this case. Production from the platform remains shut-in until BOEMRE personnel approve all safety and structural corrections.

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