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Natural gas rig explodes, partially collapses in Gulf. How big a disaster?

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Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement/AP

(Read caption) Natural gas spews from the Hercules 265 drilling rig in the Gulf of Mexico off the coast of Louisiana Tuesday, July 23. The rig partially collapsed Wednesday.

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A natural gas rig that exploded Tuesday morning, burning and leaking natural gas off the Louisiana coast, partially collapsed Wednesday.

Forty-four workers were evacuated Tuesday and no injuries were reported, Eileen Angelico, a spokeswoman for the Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement, said in a statement.

On Wednesday morning, BSEE inspectors reported a cloud of natural gas above the rig and a light sheen on the water, covering an area one-half mile by 50 feet. But they said the sheen had disappeared by Wednesday afternoon.

 

The cause of the blowout and the fire remain unknown, although questions are being raised about whether there was a problem with the rig's blowout preventers, the safety equipment that is meant to shut off out-of-control oil and gas wells.

A spokesman for the rig's owner, Walter Oil & Gas, "initially said the blowout preventer appeared to have failed, but the company later said it was still investigating the incident and wouldn't know the cause of the blowout, or why the well continued to flow, for some time," reported The Wall Street Journal.

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