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Alaska Offshore Oil Rig Burns Out of Control

December 22, 1987

KENAI, Alaska (AP) _ An offshore oil drilling platform in Cook Inlet burned out of control Monday as firefighting boats sprayed seawater to cool the three-story structure, officials said.

There were no injuries reported, and all 49 platform workers escaped safely after one of the rig’s oil wells blew out Sunday evening, the Coast Guard said.

The flames appeared to be fed by natural gas escaping from the well, said a spokesman for the platform’s operator, Marathon Oil Co.

″We have got a gas-related incident,″ said Tom Brooks, environmental engineer for Marathon. ″We do know there is no crude oil involved.″

The Coast Guard dispatched a helicopter and buoy-tender early Monday but called them back later in the day when they found no oil slick or need of assistance.

The oil company brought in two firefighting boats Monday to spray water on the platform to cool it down, Brooks said.

The rig, known as the Steelhead platform, is the newest and largest of 15 drilling platforms in Cook Inlet. Located about 30 miles northwest of Kenai and 120 miles southeast of Anchorage, the rig is owned jointly by Marathon and Unocal Corp.

Construction began on the structure in early 1986, and it was just recently put into operation, Brooks said.

The platform’s wellhead structure blew out about 6:30 p.m. Sunday, said Coast Guard Senior Chief Eugene Coffin. A blowout occurs when pressure builds in the well shaft and damages wellhead equipment, allowing flammable gases to escape.

Twenty oil workers immediately escaped the rig in fireproof and waterproof rescue pods. They were picked up by a Coast Guard vessel, said Coast Guard Chief Martin Reed.

The others remained on the platform to shut down three other wells and to try to plug the leak by pumping heavy drilling muds down the well, said Ken Knoblock, rig foreman.

Fire broke out at 11:26 p.m., shaking the platform and sending the remaining workers scurrying for a rescue capsule. The cause of the fire was unknown.

″When it blew, we got in the capsule and went overboard,″ Knoblock said. ″It was real scary.″

The fire was visible from the shore of Kenai Peninsula, about 25 miles to the east. The rig is about 10 miles from shore to the west.

″The whole deck surface seems to be engulfed,″ said Marty Smith, who said he stopped to watch the fire while driving north of Kenai.

Mark Hunter, a reporter with radio station KSRM in Soldotna, said the bright orange flame contained little smoke. ″It’s just a big torch,″ Hunter said.

The platform’s crew were taken to other platforms in the area and to Nikiski near Kenai.

Brooks said officials had not determined what caused the blowout.

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