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Fire out at natural gas well off US coast

July 25, 2013

NEW ORLEANS (AP) — A fire on a drilling rig that raged after a natural gas well blew out of control in the Gulf of Mexico was no longer burning, U.S. officials said Thursday, just hours after confirming gas had stopped flowing from the well.

The well, which had been spewing gas since early Tuesday, became blocked by undersea sand and sediment, essentially snuffing itself out, the Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement said. Residual gas had continued to feed flames, but the Coast Guard and a spokesman for oil and gas producer Walter Oil & Gas, Brian Kennedy, confirmed the fire was out Thursday morning.

The cause of the blowout was under investigation. Air and water travel safety restrictions remained in effect in the area until the next steps could be determined.

Jim Noe of Hercules Offshore Inc., the company that owns the rig, said it appeared stable and that there was no sign of an oil sheen on the water during a Thursday morning fly-over.

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 be secured to ensure it doesn’t start leaking again, and how that would be done was not immediately clear.

Because the well involved is a natural gas well, not an oil well, experts said the pollution threats were far less than those posed by some previous accidents.

Officials and scientists agree the incident should not be nearly as damaging as the massive BP oil spill, also in the Gulf of Mexico, that sent crude oil oozing ashore in 2010.

Gas wells often also have oil or other hydrocarbons as well as natural gas.

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.

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Associated Press writers Seth Borenstein in Washington and Stacey Plaisance in New Orleans contributed to this report.

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