- Associated Press - Thursday, September 2, 2010

NEW ORLEANS (AP) | An oil platform exploded and caught fire Thursday off the Louisiana coast, the second such disaster in the Gulf of Mexico in less than five months. All 13 crew members were rescued from the water in protective “Gumby suits.”

The Coast Guard initially reported that an oil sheen a mile long and 100 feet wide had begun to spread from the site of the blast, about 200 miles west of the site of BP’s massive spill. But hours later, Coast Guard Cmdr. Cheri Ben-Iesau said crews were unable to find any spill.

The company that owns the platform, Houston-based Mariner Energy, did not know what caused the blast.

Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal said Mariner officials told him there were seven active production wells on the platform, and they were shut down shortly after the fire broke out.

The Coast Guard said Mariner Energy reported the oil sheen. But the company said that an initial flyover of the platform did not reveal any spilled oil.

Photos from the scene showed at least five ships floating near the platform. Three of them were shooting great plumes of water onto the machinery. Light smoke could be seen drifting across the deep blue waters of the gulf.

By late afternoon, the fire on the platform was out.

The platform is in about 340 feet of water and about 100 miles south of Louisiana’s Vermilion Bay. Its location is considered shallow water, much less than the approximately 5,000 feet where BP’s well spewed oil and gas for three months after the April 20 rig explosion.

Meanwhile, engineers removed a temporary cap from BP’s blown-out well. More oil was not expected to leak into the sea, but crews were on standby with collection vessels just in case.

The move was a prelude to raising the massive piece of equipment underneath that failed to prevent the worst offshore oil spill in U.S. history. The government wants to replace the failed blowout preventer first to deal with any pressure that is caused when a relief well BP has been drilling intersects the blown-out well.

Once that intersection occurs sometime after Labor Day, BP is expected to use mud and cement to plug the blown-out well for good from the bottom.

A homeland security update obtained by the Associated Press said the Mariner Energy platform that exploded Thursday was producing 58,800 gallons of oil and 900,000 cubic feet of gas per day. The platform can store 4,200 gallons of oil.

White House press secretary Robert Gibbs said the administration has “response assets ready for deployment should we receive reports of pollution in the water.”

Crew members were found floating in the water, huddled together in insulated survival outfits called “Gumby suits” for their resemblance to the cartoon character.

“These guys had the presence of mind, used their training to get into those Gumby suits before they entered the water,” Coast Guard spokesman Chief Petty Officer John Edwards said.

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