New rig explosion raises spectre of second Gulf of Mexico oil spill

A mile-long oil sheen has spread from an offshore petroleum platform burning in the Gulf of Mexico off Louisiana, west of the site of BP's massive spill.

Coast Guard Petty Officer Bill Coklough said the sheen was spotted near the platform owned by Houston-based Mariner Energy Inc. He said Mariner had deployed three firefighting vessels to the site and one was already in place fighting the blaze. The Coast Guard said one person was injured but no one was killed in the incident, which was reported by a commercial helicopter flying over the site. All 13 people on the rig were rescued.

The platform is in about 340 feet of water, about 100 miles south of Vermilion Bay on the central Louisiana coast. Its location is considered shallow water, much less than the approximately 5,000 feet where BP's well spewed oil and gas for three months after the Deepwater Horizon explosion in April.

Coast Guard spokesman, Chief Petty Officer John Edwards, said: "These guys had the presence of mind, used their training to get into those gumby suits [survival outfits] before they entered the water. It speaks volumes to safety training and the importance of it because beyond getting off the rig there's all the hazards of the water such as hypothermia and things of that nature."

All were being flown to a hospital in Houma, Louisiana, to be checked over. In a statement, the platform's owner, Houston-based Mariner Energy, Inc., said: "Mariner has notified and is working with regulatory authorities in response to this incident. The cause is not known, and an investigation will be undertaken."

The platform is a fixed petroleum platform that was in production at the time of the fire, according to a homeland security operational update obtained by the Associated Press. The update said the platform was producing about 58,800 gallons of oil and 900,000 cubic feet of gas per day. The platform can store 4,200 gallons of oil.

Seven Coast Guard helicopters, two airplanes and three cutters were dispatched to the scene from New Orleans, Houston and Mobile, Alabama.

White House press secretary Robert Gibbs said President Barack Obama was in a national security meeting and did not know whether he had been informed of the explosion. "We obviously have response assets ready for deployment should we receive reports of pollution in the water," said Mr Gibbs.

The platform is about 200 miles west of BP's blown-out well. The BP-leased rig Deepwater Horizon exploded on 20 April, killing 11 people, injuring 17 others and setting off a three-month leak that totalled 206 million gallons of oil.