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Oil platform explodes off Louisiana coast; 4 injured, 2 missing

By Michael Muskal and Richard Simon, Los Angeles Times –

An oil platform exploded off of the coast of Louisiana, injuring at least four people, the Coast Guard said Friday. Officials were searching for at least two people who were believed to be missing.

The explosion took place about 9 a.m. local time, sparking a fire on the platform that has since been extinguished, a Coast Guard spokesman, Chief Bobby Nash, said in an interview with the Los Angeles Times.

At least four people were evacuated from the platform, about 25 miles off the coast of Louisiana near Grand Isle, and taken to a hospital. There was no immediate word on their condition, Nash said.

There were reports in some of the local media that at least two people had died, but Nash said those reports have not been confirmed.

Two people are believed to have jumped from the platform and were being sought. “We have assets searching the area,” Nash said.

At least one helicopter, an airplane and small boats were sent to the area for the search.

The accident took place a day after BP admitted criminal liability in the 2010 oil spill that wracked the Gulf of Mexico. BP entered a guilty plea to a variety of charges, including manslaughter and lying to Congress about the spill that began with an explosion on an oil rig, the Deepwater Horizon. In addition to pleading guilty, BP agreed to pay more than $4.5 billion in penalties.

The platform in Friday’s explosion is different from the Deepwater Horizon, which was drilling for oil about a mile under the sea and about 50 miles off the Louisiana coast. Eleven people died in the Deepwater explosion, which led to months of oil pouring from the underwater well. Eventually, about 4 million barrels of oil went into the water and washed ashore, threatening the environment, commercial fishing and the tourism industry.

The platform in Friday’s fire is a production platform, owned by Black Elk Energy, headquartered in Houston. The company’s website says it holds interests in properties in Texas and Louisiana waters, including 854 wells on 155 platforms.

A spokeswoman in New Orleans for the company said she could not comment immediately, but said the company would be issuing a statement.

There was no immediate cause for the explosion, but Rep. Ed Markey of Massachusetts, the top Democrat on the House Natural Resources Committee, said his staff was told by officials that it was caused when construction crews cut through a line with a torch.

The shallow-water platform had shut its wells before the incident. There are conflicting reports about whether there is pollution in the water, and what exactly the source of the pollution is, Markey said.

Inspectors from the federal Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement were en route to the scene, a spokesman said in Washington.

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