Coast Guard: Two missing in Gulf oil platform explosion

An explosion on a Gulf of Mexico oil production platform off the coast of Louisiana is likely to renew attention to the safety of offshore oil-and-gas development. 

Ensign Glenn Sanchez, a Coast Guard spokesman, told The Hill that two people are missing from the Black Elk Energy platform and possibly overboard. He did not confirm reports of the two deaths.

Nine people have been taken to a Louisiana hospital, Sanchez said, adding that the Coast Guard has multiple boats and two helicopters at the scene.

He said there is a sheen of oil visible in the area that could be from a broken line that contained 28 gallons of oil.

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The incident comes one day after the Justice Department reached a wide-ranging criminal settlement with BP over the 2010 explosion on the Deepwater Horizon drilling rig in the Gulf of Mexico.

That accident, which killed 11 people and touched off the worst oil spill in U.S. history, took 87 days to bring under control as oil gushed from a blown-out deep-water well.

Coast Guard Capt. Peter Gautier told NBC News that the Black Elk Energy platform was not actively producing oil, adding that that officials believe the risk of a major environmental disaster from today's incident is small.

But Rep. Edward Markey (Mass.), a senior Democrat and frequent critic of oil companies, said the new accident is “yet another reminder that our work on oil drilling safety is not complete.”

“This incident raises a number of questions about the nature and adequacy of safety measures on this offshore rig, and I will be asking Black Elk, the Department of Interior and the Coast Guard for full reports on this latest tragedy,” he said in a statement.

Markey said that House Natural Resources Committee staff have received information from the Coast Guard and Interior Department that a fire on the platform is out and crews were responding to victims.

“The fire on the Black Elk Energy rig reportedly occurred when construction crews cut through a line with a torch. The shallow-water platform had shut in all wells before the incident,” Markey said.

“There are conflicting reports about whether there is pollution in the water, and what exactly the source of the pollution is,” said Markey, the committee's top Democrat.

The shallow-water Black Elk Energy platform is about 25 miles southeast of Grand Isle, La., according to The Associated Press. More than 20 people were onboard when the explosion occurred.  

The Interior Department’s Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement has dispatched inspectors to the facility, a spokesman told The Hill.

—This report was originally posted at 1:08 p.m. and last updated at 1:55 p.m.