The News Courier in Athens, Alabama

State and Nation

July 25, 2013

Experts: Gas in Gulf blowout is less damaging

(Continued)

That's not to say there were no dangers. The Coast Guard maintained traffic restrictions within 500 meters of the site and the Federal Aviation Administration restricted aircraft up to 2,000 feet over the area.

Tuesday's blowout occurred at a drilling rig adjacent to a natural gas platform that wasn't producing gas at the time about 55 miles south of the coast. The rig was completing a "sidetrack well," which drills into the same well hole under the platform. Industry experts say such wells are used to remedy an obstruction or other problem with the original bore, or to access a different part of the gas reserve.

Gas spewed throughout the day and ignited late Tuesday night. The cause of the blowout was under investigation being overseen by the federal Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement.

Rig owner Hercules Offshore Inc. said the plan to stop the flow of gas may include drilling a relief well to divert the gas from the accident site, which could take weeks.

"We are singularly focused on coming up with an action plan that would regain control over the well," said James Noe, an executive with Hercules, which was operating the rig for Walters Oil & Gas, an exploration and production company.

BSEE said the plan could be submitted for its approval as soon as Wednesday night. How long it would take to plug the well was uncertain.

Natural gas — mostly methane — is far more soluble than oil, meaning it more easily dissolves, dilutes and disperses than crude oil, said Donald Boesch, president of the University of Maryland's Center for Environmental Science and a member of the federal panel that investigated the BP oil spill. That means concentrations would be are far less lethal to the marine environment, he said.

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