The Interior Department agency that oversees offshore rig safety said Friday it has launched a full investigation into the fire Thursday aboard the Mariner Energy Inc. offshore production platform.

Mariner by late Thursday had extinguished the fire on the platform, which is about 100 miles south of Vermilion Bay, LA (see Daily GPI, Sept. 3). 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. The U.S. Coast Guard (USCG) had responded to reports of smoke and a fire, and 13 crew members were safely rescued by commercial vessels.

According to Mariner, the fire, which it stressed was not a well blowout, occurred on the upper decks of the production platform and apparently started in crew quarters.

"We are all relieved that the 13 personnel on the platform were rescued safely," said Michael R. Bromwich, director of the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, Regulation and Enforcement (BOEM), successor to the Minerals Management Service.

"We are continuing to closely monitor this situation, which will be investigated fully. We will use all available resources to ensure that we find out what happened, how it happened, and what enforcement action should be taken if any laws or regulations were violated."

Bromwich has directed members of BOEM's newly created Investigations and Review Unit to lead the investigation. The USCG will support the BOEM's investigation.

The production platform was in 340 feet of water (shallow waters), and was authorized to produce oil and natural gas at this water depth, Bromwich noted. The current six-month drilling suspension in the Gulf of Mexico is for deepwater drilling and does not apply to shallow water operations, including the Mariner platform, he said.

Mariner, which is being acquired by Apache Corp., said it was working with regulatory authorities and planned an internal investigation as well, but the cause of the blaze was unknown on Friday.

Members of the House Natural Resource Committee on Friday followed Thursday's action by members of the House Energy and Commerce Committee in calling for an investigation into the fire. Rep. Nick Rahall (D-WV), who chairs the Natural Resource Committee, sent a letter to Interior Secretary Ken Salazar asking for a documents related to activity on the Vermilion rig site. Specifically, Rahall wants to review e-mails and other documents concerning applications to modify an existing well that Mariner filed with federal officials earlier this year.

Rahall also is looking into Mariner's track record, including the producer's involvement in at least a dozen offshore accidents or pollution spills, he said. Rahall asked Salazar for copies of the most recent inspection reports for all of Mariner's facilities in the Gulf of Mexico and more details on the federal government's findings of noncompliance by the company.

Meanwhile, the Center for American Progress Action Fund's ThinkProgress noted late Thursday that in a recent filing to the Securities and Exchange Commission, Mariner said its operations "may be impacted in the future by increased regulatory oversight, which may increase the cost of" and delay drilling and production from OCS wells.

ThinkProgress said the BOEM's OCS Civil/Criminal Penalties Program "cited Mariner Energy for two violations in just the first six months of this year, and once more in 2007." The two violations this year, it said, totaled $55,000, while the one in 2007 totaled $30,000.

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