Coast Guard Still Looking for Missing Oil Rig Workers

KATC Viewer Photo(NEW ORLEANS) -- Authorities are continuing to search for two workers who jumped from the burning platform into the Gulf of Mexico after their oil rig exploded off the coast of Louisiana, sending flames and a cloud of black smoke into the sky Friday.

The Coast Guard has been working for more than 24 hours to find the rig workers, whose names and genders have not been released. Air and sea units are searching for what they believe will be two survivors.

An 87-foot Coast Guard cutter is searching the seas, while two helicopter crews and a fixed-wing aircraft crew search from above. They are searching a 1,400 square-mile area around the platform, according to a Coast Guard press release.

The rig was not producing oil on Friday morning during the explosion. Black Hawk Energy, which owns the platform, said one of 22 contractors on board mistakenly grabbed a blow torch instead of a saw to cut a pipe line that had 28 gallons of oil inside, igniting the blast. Everyone on board was employed by Grand Isle Shipyard, not Black Elk.

"We treat our contractors as part of that family," said John Hoffman, the president and CEO of Black Hawk Energy. "So when there's an incident, it hurts."

Of the 11 injured workers who were air-lifted to safety, four had severe burns. No deaths have been reported.

The rig had been expected to begin oil production again later this month. Because the rig was offline, the Coast Guard said there is little risk of a major spill.

"The environmental threat as we know, there were 28 gallons that potentially were in that 3-inch line, 75 feet long, which would equate to 28 gallons of product," said Ed Cubanski, chief of the U.S. Coast Guard response.

As of Friday evening, an oil sheen spread to half a square mile from the 28-gallon spill. That's less than the size of an SUV gas tank.

The Louisiana explosion is a reminder of the 2010 Deepwater Horizon spill about 85 miles away, which made headlines this week when BP agreed to a $4.5 billion settlement and two BP officials were charged with manslaughter. But that spill amounted to 210 million gallons, and resulted in 11 deaths.

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