E2 Round-up: Search continues for missing oil workers, a mine safety inspection blitz, Senate climate bill changes are afoot, and the nuclear 'renaissance' lopes along.

The rig, where exploratory drilling was being done about 50 miles off the coast of Louisiana, exploded late Tuesday, sending workers scurrying for safety. Seventeen people were injured in the blast and taken to hospitals, four critically, in what could be one of the nation's deadliest offshore drilling accidents of the past half-century.

Coast Guard crews in two cutters have been searching around the clock for the missing, said Coast Guard Lt. Sue Kerver. The air search was to resume at first light Friday around 6:30 a.m. CDT, she said.

The rig is owned by Transocean Ltd. and was under contract to oil giant BP.

* Federal mine safety investigators launched an ‘inspecton blitz’ last weekend.

The federal Mine Safety and Health Administration revealed Wednesday that last weekend it dispatched inspectors to 57 undeground coal mines nationwide, targeting sites with a history of violations or worrisome conditions.

The inspections follow the accident at the Upper Big Branch mine in West Virginia earlier this month that killed 29 workers.

“The purpose of these inspections is to provide assurance that no imminent dangers, explosions, hazards or other serious health or safety conditions and practices are present at these mines,” said Assistant Secretary of Labor for Mine Safety and Health Joseph Main in a statement. “Just last week, we pledged to the president that we will do whatever it takes to make sure another tragedy like the one that claimed 29 miners’ lives at Upper Big Branch never happens again.”

From the Washington Post write-up:

“The 57 mines were selected for inspection based on their history of significant and/or repeat MSHA violations regarding problems with ventilation, methane buildup and rock dusting. Though the cause of the fatal explosion at the Upper Big Branch mine in West Virginia is still being investigated, early guesses point to a combination of a buildup of dangerous concentration of methane gas and highly explosive coal dust. If a mine is properly ventilated -- and if non-combustible rock dust is spread over exposed coal face walls, lowering the amount of coal dust in the air -- the risk of explosions should be held to a minimum.”

Don Blankenship, the controversial CEO of Upper Big Branch owner Massey Energy Co., is defending his company’s safety record. He spoke to the Wall Street Journal.

* Authors of the Senate climate bill have dropped a ‘linked fee’ on motor fuel emissions – report.

The upcoming bill won’t include a planned fee on petroleum companies to cover transportation sector greenhouse gas emissions, Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) says in this Bloomberg account.

“We are trying to find a way to get the transportation sector covered in the most business friendly manner and the linked-fee idea is not going to be in there,” Graham said.

The story adds: “The fee’s removal from the draft legislation underscores the difficulty in crafting a climate-change measure that can win the support of a majority of senators. As recently as last month, Graham said the bill would call for oil companies to pay fixed emission fees tied to a proposed carbon-trading market, also known as a cap-and-trade program.”

Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.) – who is crafting the bill along with Sen. Joe Lieberman (I-Conn.) and Graham – had hinted earlier this week that they were overhauling their approach to transportation fuels.

* Nuclear power is making a comeback in fits and starts.

The New York Times is taking another look at the opportunities and challenges facing power companies and public officials trying to get the first new U.S. nuclear reactors in decades off the ground.

“Is this the long-awaited renaissance of the nuclear construction business, after years of being moribund?,” the story asks.

It continues:

“Certainly, some crucial ingredients are falling into place. Nuclear power provides 70 percent of the nation’s carbon-free electricity, important at a time when environmentalists track carbon in the atmosphere the way baby boomers check their cholesterol levels. And while Congress has not agreed on setting a price on carbon emissions, important people say we need more low-carbon power. President Obama said in his State of the Union address that it was time to build “a new generation of safe, clean nuclear power plants in this country,” and his budget plan would triple the pool of loan guarantees available for construction, to $57.5 billion.”

But the piece also looks at roadblocks, such as the recession that has cut demand for electricity, reducing some of the urgency.