The U.S. Coast Guard has reported that the Transocean offshore oil platform that caught fire after an explosion Tuesday night has sunk.
Massive efforts to extinguish the fire and save the rig have been underway since the explosion Tuesday night, but in vain. The immense facility sunk Thursday afternoon – a day that is celebrated around the world as Earth Day – leaving a 5-mile swath of oil sheen across the Gulf waters.
The Transocean explosion is one of the biggest oil industry disasters to occur in U.S. territory in decades. Ironically, the oil rig explosion came less than two weeks after an explosion in a West Virginia coal mine killed 29 miners, one of the worst mining disasters in U.S. history. The two incidents have cast a pall on the energy industry by drawing attention to environmental hazards and underscoring the risks workers must face, whether they mine for coal or drill for oil.
Eleven workers are still missing after Tuesday’s explosion in the Gulf of Mexico. Teams of rescue workers continue to search 2,000 square miles of sea around the blast site, covering the area a dozen times by air and 5 times by boat.
A U.S. Coast Guard official said today that the 11 workers “may have been in the vicinity of the explosion.” Another has said that the workers may not have been able to evacuate the fire. Meanwhile, a life vessel from the Deepwater Horizon was brought to shore today but there were no occupants.
The other 115 workers have been accounted for. One hundred and eleven made it to shore, where 17 were being treated for burn injuries, broken bones, and smoke inhalation. Four of the injured are in critical condition. The injured workers have been taken to hospitals in New Orleans and Mobile for treatment.
Four of the 126 workers who operate a drilling robot from a boat are safe and continue their work offshore.
The Deepwater Horizon oil platform, which is about twice the size of a football field, was located about 50 miles off the coast of Louisiana. Built in 2001 by Hyundai in South Korea in 2001 and owned by Transocean, the offshore platform had been under contract to oil giant BP.
Seventy-nine Transocean employees, 6 BP workers, and 41contracted workers were concluding exploratory drilling when the explosion occurred. They were reportedly days away from announcing a “commercially attractive” oil deposit discovery when the explosion occurred.
Transocean vice president Adrian Rose said the blast was likely a blowout caused by natural gas forcing its way up the well pipe. The incident remains under investigation.
Offshore oil rig work has become safer in recent years due to improved training, safety systems, and maintenance, but it remains an extremely dangerous occupation.
In the last nine years, 69 people have been killed and 1,349 injured in oil rig accidents just in the Gulf of Mexico. According to the federal Minerals Management Service, there have been 858 fires and explosions in the Gulf during that same period of time.