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Two Reportedly Missing in GOM Rig Explosion

The U.S. Coast Guard in New Orleans last Friday enlisted two boats, a cutter, two helicopters and a plane to search for two personnel missing from an oil and natural gas production rig that experienced an explosion and fire at about 8:45 a.m. CST.

The platform, which is 20 miles southeast of Grand Isle, LA, in West Delta Block 32 and in about 56 feet of water, is owned by Houston-based Black Elk Energy.

The explosion was said by officials to have been caused by contract workers using an acetylene torch to cut a pipe when they should have been using a saw. The platform was offline and was being prepared for a return to service later this month, said Black Elk Energy CEO John Hoffman.

Conflicting reports from Coast Guard officials put the number of workers on the platform at the time of the explosion at 28, 26 or 22. About a dozen workers were hospitalized, and four were said to be in critical condition due to burns on Friday. No deaths were confirmed by the Coast Guard despite some media reports that said two had been killed.

An oil sheen, possibly as large as 28 gallons, had been spotted around the platform, the Coast Guard said.

Black Elk spokeswoman Leslie Hoffman said the company would have a statement on the incident Friday afternoon, but it had not been made available as of press time.

Rep. Ed Markey (D-MA), the ranking Democrat on the House National Resources Committee, in a statement Friday alluded to the government's recent settlement with BP plc over the Macondo well blowout in 2010 (see related story).

"This [Friday's incident] is yet another reminder that our work on oil drilling safety is not complete," Markey said. "The Obama administration has taken important steps to increase safety standards for blowout preventers, well design and construction in offshore drilling. Congress still needs to pass legislation that codifies the actions taken by the Obama administration, increases penalties and liabilities for companies that spill and ensures that the agencies charged with overseeing offshore oil drilling have the resources they need to protect workers and the environment."

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