Did Methane Cause latest Gulf Fire?

Mariner Energy (NYSE: ME), owner and operator of the Vermilion 380 offshore production platform that exploded and caught fire about 9:30 am Central Daylight time on Thursday in the Gulf of Mexico, reports a “slight sheen” on the water measuring about one nautical mile by about 100 feet.

The Coast Guard said that no one was killed in the explosion, and all 13 people on the platform have been accounted for, with one injury.

All the workers were transported to Terrebonne General Medical Center in Houma, Louisiana, to be checked over. One worker was reported injured, but his condition is unknown.

Preliminary speculation is that the explosion may have been caused by the build-up of methane hydrates in the pipelines that tie back to this platform, which is located about 90 miles south of Louisiana’s Vermilion Bay in 350 feet of water. This is about 200 miles west of the site of the April 20 Deepwater Horizon blast that caused a massive oil spill.

The US Coast Guard says the blast was reported by a commercial helicopter company about 9:30 a.m. CDT Thursday. Seven helicopters, two airplanes, and four boats are en route to the site, according to the USCG spokesman.

The helicopter pilot saw smoke coming from the drilling rig and reported it to authorities.

The workers, who were spotted in immersion suits (emergency flotation devices), were rescued from the water by an offshore service vessel, the Crystal Clear, said the Coast Guard. They were initially taken to a nearby platform before being flown to the hospital.

The Vermilion 380 platform normally produces about 9.2 million cubic feet of natural gas production per day and 1,400 barrels of oil and condensate as of August, according to the company. It is 100% owned and operated by Mariner.

Houston-based Apache Corp. (NYSE: APA) is in the process of closing on a $2.7 billion acquisition of Mariner. . Completion of the transaction is expected in the third quarter of 2010.

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