Mariner Energy Inc. said Thursday afternoon that a fire on an offshore natural gas and oil production platform in the shallow waters of the Gulf of Mexico (GOM) had been extinguished and all crew members were safe. The incident, said the Houston-based producer, was not related to a well blowout.

The U.S. Coast Guard (USCG) Thursday morning responded to reports of smoke and a fire on the Mariner platform, which is about 100 miles south of Vermilion Bay, LA. The platform serves seven natural gas and oil wells that were producing 9.2 MMcf/d of gas and 1,400 b/d of oil and condensate at the end of August.

According to Mariner, a fire occurred on the upper deck of the production platform. The 13 people on board were rescued by a commercial vessel and taken to Houma, LA.

Mariner, which is being acquired by Apache Corp., confirmed that there was a fire. "In an initial flyover, no hydrocarbon spill was reported," the producer stated. "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 production platform, in Vermillion Block 380, was working on the Outer Continental Shelf (OCS) in waters that are about 340 feet deep. Mariner is among the largest leaseholders on the OCS, and at the end of 2009 the producer had stakes in about 240 federal leases and more than 30 state blocks. Mariner was drilling no offshore wells at the end of June, according to the Houston-based producer.

According to USCG Petty Officer Casey Ranel, smoke on the platform was reported by a commercial helicopter at about 9:30 a.m. CDT Thursday. Seven helicopters, four boats and two airplanes responded, Ranel said.

White House spokesman Robert Gibbs said oil spill response assets were ready if needed. According to USCG Petty Officer Bill Colclough, an oil sheen one nautical mile by 100 feet wide was near the platform. It was unclear on Thursday whether the sheen was related to an oil leak or from the fire and resulting cleanup.

Democratic leaders on the House Energy and Commerce Committee wasted no time Thursday in asking Mariner to report to them on the details of the fire. In a letter to Mariner CEO Scott D. Josey, the producer was asked to provide a full briefing of the incident and its possible causes by Sept. 10. The letter was signed by House Energy and Commerce Chairman Henry Waxman; Rep. Stupak (D-MI), chairman of the Oversight and Investigations Subcommittee; and Rep. Edward Markey, chairman of the Energy and Environment Subcommittee.

The House lawmakers were unrelenting in their pursuit of BP plc after the explosion and sinking of the Deepwater Horizon rig last spring. "I'm not at all surprised" by how quickly Waxman has reacted to the Mariner incident, chuckled an official with a producer association.

"This [latest] explosion highlights the significant risks associated with offshore drilling and that much is left to be done to keep America's workers and waters safe from those risks," Markey said. "After the 13 workers on this rig are safe and sound, we have a duty to them and all oil workers to make sure the oil industry's drilling practices are also safe and sound."

Key oil and natural gas groups declined to comment on whether they thought the Mariner incident might cause the federal government to extend the current moratorium in the Gulf, which is expected to expire on Nov. 30. But they were quick to point out that a platform fire is quite different from a rig explosion, and is typically more benign. Platforms typically are put in place once a well is drilled and many times are tethered to the bottom.

"Neither one is good, but platform fires do happen occasionally," said Cathy Landry, a spokeswoman for the American Petroleum Institute.

"I don't think we know enough about the situation yet" to assess what potential impact it may have on the moratorium, said Lee Fuller, vice president of government affairs for the Independent Petroleum Association of America.

Mariner's news sent both its stock and Apache's share price down Thursday. Mariner shares ended the day down 2.57% (60 cents) to close at $22.75. Apache was off 1.25% ($1.16) for the day to end at $91.30.

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