The Norman Transcript

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July 30, 2013

Federal agency to probe blown well

ON THE GULF OF MEXICO — Scientists from several universities are working to learn whether a gas well that blew wild last week off the Louisiana coast has polluted the Gulf of Mexico.

Joseph Montoya, a Georgia Tech biology professor, was leading a research project on a vessel near the site of the 2010 BP oil spill when the gas well, owned by Houston-based Walter Oil & Gas Corp., suffered a blowout on July 23 and later caught fire. All 44 people aboard the Hercules 265 rig working at the site in 154 feet of water were evacuated safely. The rig is owned by Hercules Offshore Inc., also based in Houston.

The well spewed gas and small amounts of oil that produced occasional light sheens on the Gulf surface. Late Wednesday, the well choked itself off. Authorities believe sand and sediments blocked the flow of gas and the fire that damaged the rig burned itself out.

The federal Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement said Monday that its Gulf of Mexico Regional Director, Lars Herbst, was organizing a panel investigation to determine the cause of the accident.

“The panel will be led by a BSEE Gulf of Mexico Region engineer and membership includes BSEE investigators and engineers from both the Gulf Region and Headquarters,” the agency said in a news release. BSEE will also work with the coast guard to find the cause of the blowout, determine whether any safety violations were involved and make recommendations to prevent future blowouts.

Meanwhile, Montoya and the team of academics hoped to find any hints of environmental damage.

“We organized a rapid-response cruise to get some of our scientists out here,” Montoya said Saturday while near the Hercules rig.

A 10-member crew used buckets, hoses and canisters to collect water samples to measure levels of methane gas, radon gas, bacterial abundance and activity, among other things. The Coast Guard wouldn’t let their boat closer than 5 miles to the rig.

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